The Northern Ireland Under-21 international headed against the crossbar in the second half at Oakwell for the relegation-threatened side, who had Kelvin Etuhu sent off for two quickfire bookings with 14 minutes remaining.
Leonardo Ulloa and Kazenga LuaLua almost broke the deadlock for the Seagulls but they failed to record a victory for the fifth successive match.
Barnsley began the brighter of the two sides and, after failing to convert a couple of dangerous crosses from wide-midfielder McLaughlin, had the contest's first effort on goal in the 16th minute.
Winger Dale Jennings, searching for his third goal in three games, picked up a loose ball on the left-hand corner of the Albion 18-yard box before curling a right-footed attempt which was collected by Tomasz Kuszczak.
The away side had plenty of possession but failed to carve a meaningful chance until the 36th minute.
Neat build up play led to loan forward Jesse Lingard teeing up Ulloa inside the penalty area and the Argentine striker unleashed a powerful drive which deflected behind for a corner following a last-ditch challenge from Barnsley centre-half Jean-Yves M'Voto.
Seagulls midfielder Dale Stephens then fired over from the edge of the box as an uneventful first half drew to a close.
Barnsley goalkeeper Luke Steele was forced to smother a dangerous low cross from Solly March seven minutes after the restart before Danny Wilson's men almost edged in front with an opportunity at the other end moments later.
Left-back Tom Kennedy delivered a whipped cross to the back post where McLaughlin, on loan from Liverpool, rose highest to head against Kuszczak's bar.
Seagulls forward Lingard then wastefully shot over from the edge of the Barnsley box following Ulloa's pass.
Tykes defender M'Voto should have put the hosts ahead with 20 minutes to play but he headed narrowly wide of the left-hand upright from inside the six-yard area following another Kennedy cross.
Lingard then pulled the ball back for Albion top-scorer Ulloa at the other end and the former Almeria man placed a side-footed finish past Steele only to see the goal-bound effort cleared by full-back Etuhu.
Etuhu was then dismissed for two yellow cards in three minutes following two challenges on Brighton substitute LuaLua.
LuaLua had only been on the pitch for 13 minutes before the red card and after the second challenge, a cynical shirt pull, he smashed the resultant free-kick inches wide.
The visitors threw on Craig Mackail-Smith following the dismissal but the striker, whose last appearance came in March 2013, could not inspire them to find a winner, leaving Albion five points off the top six.