Botox May Deaden Not Just Nerves, But Emotions, Too

By Smriti Rao | February 9, 2010 3:45 pm

botox-faceSure, 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].

The findings were discussed at the recent meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and the study will soon be published in the journal Psychological Science.

Related Content:
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Discoblog: Botox: It’s a Miracle Wrinkle Cure *and* a Bioterror Threat!
Discoblog: Scared of Botox? Try Facial Flexing
DISCOVER: The Physics of…Wrinkles

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
MORE ABOUT: aging, botox, emotions
  • Ernie M. Brewer

    Of course. I individual must be able to express emotions to recieve emotional cues. If this study demonstartes the above, then what is our society heading if we look into the face of an individual an cognize absolutely nothing?

  • Dr. Rose Jeans

    Speaking as someone who uses Botox both personally and on my clients, I would like to point out that the report quoted in the study concluded that Botox decreased negative emotions, not positive ones. The time to read the positive statements was unchanged after Botox treatments.

    Don’t you think that the world is stressful enough that a little treatment that makes you look better and feel less sad and angry is a good thing? Botox has been shown to improve mood in patients with severe depression. Isn’t that a good thing?

    We use Botox very selectively to relax muscles that create wrinkles. Many facial expressions are preserved. You probably don’t recognize all the people around you who have a little Botox because they just look a little fresher, not mask-like.

    My subjective experience is that Botox users read social cues just as well as anyone else. You would have to prove to me with a much better study that “mild … cognitive blindness” has any sort of negative impact on how we interact with each other.

    Maybe someone should do a study to see if Botox reduces road rage? Wouldn’t that have a huge benefit for society?

  • Robert

    Could there be priming involved? Perhaps people who feel themselves to be more youthful looking than previously are less angry and/or sad than before and therefore slower to respond to related stimuli. “A little bit more time” doesn’t sound like a big effect.

  • Tony

    Wow! Take away my anger and my ability to read it in others sounds great! The best part is I can always be happy now! A happy, subservient employee for this Capitalist society! I would become the model consumer for my country and it would be considered my patriotic duty!

  • LouAnn

    Sub-in “botox” for “technology” …

    Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.
    — Max Frisch

  • Mike

    When I was young, I was a very violent and angry boy that fought incessantly (not as a bully but as one that wouldn’t put up with bullies and tormentors). I punched one too many classmates and was sent to a psychologist. During the sessions, he noticed that my fists were always clenched. He taught me to open my hands when I was angry. Long story short, it worked. Was fist clenching part of a feedback loop? Or was the conscious decision to force my hands open what broke the cycle? Hmm. At any rate, I can understand where these researchers are coming from. Cool.

  • film festival

    As being a Freshman, I’m always doing a search online for articles which will help me get further ahead.


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