Peter Kozel

Date of Award

Summer 8-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



First Advisor

William Meil, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

John Mills, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

William Farrell, Ph.D.


From medical problems, to psychopathology, to school shootings, the cost of the pain resulting from interpersonal ostracism and rejection is high. The suffering caused by being rejected and undervalued by others (i.e., social pain) has been shown to share a similar neural pathway as physical pain. DeWall et al. (2010) revealed that taking the over-the-counter painkiller (acetaminophen) deactivates these neural pathways following rejection as it does with physical pain. However, this effect did not generalize to self-reported distress. The aim of the current research was to understand why there were no differences in the self-reported distress following rejection between placebo and acetaminophen groups. The current study utilized a more common protocol of eliciting social pain (Cyberball), more empirically supported measures including the Needs Theory Questionnaire (NTQ) and Positive and Negative Affective Schedule (PANAS) than DeWall et al (2010). Moderators, including self-esteem (measured by the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale), rejection sensitivity (measured by the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire), frequency of and reason for use of acetaminophen, and typical dosage of acetaminophen were also assessed. The results from 125 participants indicated that Cyberball strongly induced needs threats but no changes in affect measured via PANAS. Initially, there were no statistically significant moderating effects of acetaminophen on social pain. Rejection sensitivity and self-esteem did not moderate acetaminophen’s effect on social pain. In participants who reported taking acetaminophen less than monthly, acetaminophen significantly lowered NTQ scores in those that were rejected versus placebo. The results also indicated that acetaminophen may dull both the negative sensations of rejection as well as positive sensations of being accepted. Separating high and low frequency users may have been the primary reason for the difference in results from the current study and DeWall et al. (2010) as well as some methodological changes. While medicating social pain has the potential to prevent or ameliorate the difficulties that come from rejection, it may also inhibit prosocial behaviors aimed at rebuilding a social support network. Regardless of whether acetaminophen may have prospective clinical utility, results of the current study continue to blur the distinction between physical and social sources of pain.