Study co-author University of Florida researcher Gregory Webster suggests the drug helps because emotional and physical pain are interrelated.
"We think that social pain piggybacks onto physical pain and the two systems sort of bleed into each other, so that just as you feel emotional distress from physical pain, the social pain of having a romance breakup or getting a horrible grade can translate into feeling sick to your stomach or getting a bad headache," Webster says in a statement.
Webster and colleagues found people who took acetaminophen daily for three weeks reported less emotional suffering over time and showed less activity in regions of the brain previously shown to respond to social rejection than those taking the placebo.
"Even so, we don't want to tell people to go take Tylenol to cope with their personal problems until more research is done," Webster says.
The study is published online in advance of print in Psychological Science.