The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death: Acetaminophen Reduces Compensatory Affirmation Following Meaning Threats

Psychological Science 24 (6):966-973 (2013)
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Abstract

The meaning-maintenance model posits that any violation of expectations leads to an affective experience that motivates compensatory affirmation. We explore whether the neural mechanism that responds to meaning threats can be inhibited by acetaminophen, in the same way that acetaminophen inhibits physical pain or the distress caused by social rejection. In two studies, participants received either acetaminophen or a placebo and were provided with either an unsettling experience or a control experience. In Study 1, participants wrote about either their death or a control topic. In Study 2, participants watched either a surrealist film clip or a control film clip. In both studies, participants in the meaning-threat condition who had taken a placebo showed typical compensatory affirmations by becoming more punitive toward lawbreakers, whereas those who had taken acetaminophen, and those in the control conditions, did not.

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