Charles S. Carver

Pearson, R., Koslov, S., Hamilton, B., Shumake, J., Carver, C. S., & Beevers, C. G. (2018). Acetaminophen enhances the reflective learning process. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13, 1029-1035.

Background. Acetaminophen has been shown to influence cognitive and affective behavior; theory suggests this is via an influence on serotonin function. Serotonergic genetic variation has also been linked to dual learning systems. This study builds upon this previous work by examining the relationship between acetaminophen and dual learning systems, comprising reflective (rule-based) and reflexive (information-integration) processing.

Methods. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, a sample of community-recruited adults (N=87) were randomly administered acetaminophen (1000mg) or placebo and then completed reflective-optimal and reflexive-optimal category learning tasks.

Outcomes. On the reflective-optimal task, acetaminophen compared to placebo was associated with enhanced accuracy prior to the first rule switch (but not overall accuracy), with needing fewer trials to reach criterion, and with a faster learning rate. Acetaminophen modestly attenuated performance on the reflexive-optimal task compared to placebo.

Interpretation. These findings indirectly support two positions that have been proposed elsewhere. First, they are consistent with the view that acetaminophen has an influence on the serotonergic system. Second, the findings are consistent with a proposed link between elevated serotonin function and relative dominance of effortful, rule-based processing.

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