New study investigates influence of Tylenol on mind wandering

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A new study on the effects of Tylenol has big implications on task-related attention.

The paper, which was published in the Frontiers of Neuroscience, claims that Tylenol can affect a person’s ability to concentrate.

Professor Todd Handy

Todd Handy

“Turns out the brain system that’s being impacted by Tylenol is also responsible for whether or not we slip into mind wandering states,” says Dr. Todd Handy, professor in the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

Mind wandering occurs when we focus less on the task at hand and begin to shift our thoughts to other topics of interest. In other words, we switch to autopilot.

The researchers chose to focus on Tylenol’s effects on task-based attention after previous studies demonstrated that it also helped persons to perceive social rejection and social pain less negatively. They wanted to determine if there was a different side to Tylenol.

“In some sense, it’s good news for people who take this as a pain reliever,” Handy continued. “The bigger concern I have is that older people are already at risk because of cognitive decline. Give them a little Tylenol and this could put them at greater risk for tripping over things, which is a huge problem in the elderly.”


“It took about two years to just get the data collection done.”
MA Psychology

The study presented several challenges during the multi-year investigation. Sumeet Mutti Jaswal, a graduate student in UBC’s department of psychology and the study’s first author, explained that recruitment was the most difficult part.

Sumeet Mutti Jaswal

Sumeet Mutti Jaswal

“It took a long time,” Jaswal said. “It took about two years to just get the data collection done.”

Jaswal suspected that people had a negative perception of Tylenol. The brand still carries heavy criticisms from other professionals. Moreover, its standing as a popular pain reliever is also marred by its reputation for having one of the first major recalls in US history in 1982.

Despite these obstacles, Jaswal noted that after the recruitment, the data collection and data analysis were much easier.

“The analysis wasn’t that difficult,” Jaswal said. “It was the data collection part that was simplest for me. And just the amount of time that it took to do it.”


“That could be an implication from my master's thesis that we can hopefully show.”
MA Psychology

Both Handy and Jaswal note that findings from this and previous studies have larger implications. In the future, Jaswal hopes to collaborate with other researchers in the psychology department to investigate the effects of Tylenol on hoarding.

“People that hoard associate emotions to objects,” Jaswal said. “And that’s why they can’t get rid of it.”

Jaswal noted that they would ask hoarders to evaluate pictures that illustrate the destruction of well-loved items. The researchers would then provide Tylenol and observe how hoarders respond to those objects being destroyed.

“That could be an implication from my master’s thesis that we can hopefully show,” Jaswal said. “We’re going to do that project at some point.”

-Dannielle Piper