Sure, Botox can banish crows feet, smooth those wrinkles, and lift those frown lines, making the client look more youthful–and somewhat expressionless. But the treatment may have effects that are more than skin deep. A new study suggests that by paralyzing the frown muscles that ordinarily are engaged when we feel angry, Botox short-circuits the emotion itself [Newsweek].
In the now-common cosmetic treatment, a doctor injects botulinum toxin, sold under the brand name Botox, under the skin. The toxin kicks in, temporarily paralyzing facial muscles, smoothing skin out, and making a person look less wrinkly as a result. That paralysis, however, seems to interfere with a known feedback loop, in which smiling adds to your happiness and frowning multiplies your sadness [LiveScience]. And tamping down a person’s emotions seems to interfere with the ability to read emotions in others. Says study leader David Havas: “Botox [also] induces a kind of mild, temporary cognitive blindness to information in the world, social information about the emotions of other people” [Discovery News].
Havas studied 40 first-time Botox patients before and after their treatments, and both times had them read happy, sad, or angry statements. They then had to push a button, indicating they had understood what emotion the text elicited. The results showed that the patients who had undergone the treatment still understood happy sentences as quickly as they had before; but when it came to angry or sad sentences, they took a little bit more time to comprehend the emotion. Psychologist Arthur Glenberg explained, “Normally, the brain would be sending signals to the periphery to frown, and the extent of the frown would be sent back to the brain. But here, that loop is disrupted, and the intensity of the emotion and of our ability to understand it when embodied in language is disrupted” [Newsweek].
Even though the delay was less than a second, the researchers say that could be long enough to prevent you from picking up subtle emotional cues when you’re talking to a person. As Glenberg said, “If you are slightly slower reacting as I tell you about something that made me really angry, that could signal to me that you did not pick up my message” [Newsweek].
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