Acetaminophen attenuates error evaluation in cortex

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Abstract

Acetaminophen has recently been recognized as having impacts that extend into the affective domain. In particular, double blind placebo controlled trials have revealed that acetaminophen reduces the magnitude of reactivity to social rejection, frustration, dissonance and to both negatively and positively valenced attitude objects. Given this diversity of consequences, it has been proposed that the psychological effects of acetaminophen may reflect a widespread blunting of evaluative processing. We tested this hypothesis using event-related potentials (ERPs). Sixty-two participants received acetaminophen or a placebo in a double-blind protocol and completed the Go/NoGo task. Participants’ ERPs were observed following errors on the Go/NoGo task, in particular the error-related negativity (ERN; measured at FCz) and error-related positivity (Pe; measured at Pz and CPz). Results show that acetaminophen inhibits the Pe, but not the ERN, and the magnitude of an individual’s Pe correlates positively with omission errors, partially mediating the effects of acetaminophen on the error rate. These results suggest that recently documented affective blunting caused by acetaminophen may best be described as an inhibition of evaluative processing. They also contribute to the growing work suggesting that the Pe is more strongly associated with conscious awareness of errors relative to the ERN.

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