In A Nutshell
For years, Botox has been injected into people’s faces to remove wrinkles and frown lines by paralyzing the muscles. While Botox can make us look younger, it can also make it difficult to use facial expressions to convey emotions. However, scientists have found that the inability to move facial muscles associated with emotion may also limit our ability to feel those emotions. The Botox mask appears to be more than skin-deep.
The Whole Bushel
We’ve all heard that smiling can make us feel happy and frowning can make us feel sad. Well, apparently something similar happens with Botox. For years, Botox has been injected into people’s faces to remove wrinkles and frown lines by paralyzing the muscles. While Botox can make us look younger, it can also make it difficult to use facial expressions to convey emotions.
However, scientists have found that the inability to move facial muscles associated with emotion may also limit our ability to feel those emotions. The Botox mask appears to be more than skin-deep. “With Botox, a person can respond otherwise normally to an emotional event, [such as] a sad movie scene, but will have less movement in the facial muscles that have been injected, and therefore less feedback to the brain about such facial expressivity,” said researcher Joshua Davis, a psychologist at Barnard College in New York. “It thus allows for a test of whether facial expressions and the sensory feedback from them to the brain can influence our emotions.”
When compared to a control group, people injected with Botox had less of an emotional experience when viewing videos designed to elicit strong emotions. This effect was most pronounced when the Botox group viewed mildly positive videos. They didn’t respond as strongly as the control group.
Other studies have also shown that the use of Botox affects how people feel and respond to emotions. Researcher David Havas from the University of Wisconsin found that Botox injections can make it more difficult for us to understand certain emotions expressed in language. When reading emotional statements, Botox recipients had some difficulty comprehending angry and sad messages, presumably because the facial muscles associated with those emotions were paralyzed. However, they didn’t have this problem with happy messages. The researchers believe that the feedback loop to our brains is disrupted if our facial muscles can’t respond to emotions.
In yet another study, researchers from the University of Southern California and Duke University found that Botox recipients have problems understanding what other people are feeling. When someone receives a Botox injection, he or she can no longer imitate the emotional responses seen on other people’s faces. According to the researchers, this makes it difficult for Botox recipients to comprehend what these other people are feeling.
This study flowed from earlier research in the 1980s suggesting that couples who had been married for a long time began to look like each other. The researchers wondered what would happen if those couples used Botox. Specifically, would the inability to imitate another person’s facial feedback stop us from understanding their emotions? The results of this study seem to suggest it would to some degree, although the researchers didn’t explicitly study long-married couples.
Although no one is saying that the use of Botox will turn patients into automatons, the results of all these different studies do suggest that Botox affects both our ability to feel emotions and understand them in some ways.
Show Me The Proof
LiveScience: Botox Limits Ability to Feel Emotions
NY Times: With Botox, Looking Good and Feeling Less
Newsweek: How Botox May Really Keep Us From Feeling Sad