With Botox, Looking Good and Feeling Less
SMILE A study has found those with Botox injections cannot mimic the emotions of others.
By PAMELA PAUL
Published: June 17, 2011
THE GIST Using Botox decreases a person’s ability to empathize with others.
It’s no shock that we can’t tell what the Botoxed are feeling. But it turns out that people with frozen faces have little idea what we’re feeling, either.
No, Botox injections don’t zap brain cells. (At least not so far as we know.) According to a new study by David T. Neal, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, and Tanya L. Chartrand, a professor of marketing and psychology at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, people who have had Botox injections are physically unable to mimic emotions of others. This failure to mirror the faces of those they are watching or talking to robs them of the ability to understand what people are feeling, the study says.
The idea for the paper stemmed from a study conducted in the 1980s, which found that long-married men and women began to resemble each other over time, especially if they were happily wed. “So we thought, what’s going to happen now that there’s Botox?” Dr. Neal said.
The toxin might interfere with “embodied cognition,” the way in which facial feedback helps people perceive emotion. According to the theory in the study, a listener unconsciously imitates another person’s expression. This mimicry then generates a signal from the person’s face to his or her brain. Finally, the signal enables the listener to understand the other person’s meaning or intention.
While the first two steps of this process had been established by research, it was unclear whether facial feedback helped people make better judgments about other peoples’ emotions.
Enter the Botoxed person, a useful new laboratory specimen. And, as a control, the user of Restylane, a skin filler that does not alter muscle function.
In one experiment, women who had been injected with Botox within the last two weeks were offered $200 to look at a set of photographs of human eyes and match them with human emotions. Restylane users performed the same tasks, which were in both cases conducted via computer.
Women with Botox were significantly less accurate at decoding both positive and negative facial expressions than those who had used Restylane, whose abilities closely approximated those of plain old wrinkled adults. On average, the Botox group guessed 2 more out of 36 facial expressions wrong.
A second experiment found that people with amplified expressions do a better job deciphering emotions. Participants who had a gel on their faces that effectively made their muscles work harder to convey emotions could more accurately identify emotions in others. The gel was similar to an over-the-counter facial mask. Ah, the trials of beauty!
While Botox doesn’t go to the brain (the poison doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier), it does seem to affect its users ability to think. Such findings might perturb those who have dipped into the Clostridium botulinum. Not that we can tell.