Whole Living Daily

Another Reason to Pass on Botox: A Frozen Face May Mean Blunted Emotions

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My beautiful late grandmother and poet, Margery Smith Cavanagh

As we’ve discussed before here on Whole Living Daily, contemporary American culture has little patience or respect for the process of aging. The physical aging of women seems to imbue a particular panic, with Hollywood actresses planning for the time when they will no longer be employable and women’s magazines bursting at the seams with ads for creams that promise to keep them frozen in time - preferably in their 20s.

(That men enjoy Hollywood roles during all seasons of life and that the husband in the ‘frozen in time’ ad is allowed to age naturally and gracefully is a blog for another day).

It is no wonder then that women in and out of Hollywood have flocked to the use of Botox -- an injectable toxin that smooths fine lines without the need for surgery -- despite a recent FDA-mandated strengthening of the health risks listed on the product. However, regularly employing the use of Botox might carry risks beyond potentially deadly (albeit very rare) side effects.

How Botox May Blunt Your Emotional Life

Reports that Botox impairs the ability to make emotional expressions are commonplace, even leading popular film directors Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann to complain about its widespread use.

But could Botox impair emotional experience as well as emotional expression? Could it actually blunt our emotional lives? Psychologists have known for some time that there are feedback links between the expressions we make and the emotions we feel – called the facial feedback hypothesis. Your mom was not wrong when she told you to put on a happy face when you are feeling sad – that advice could actually work.

Ground-breaking work out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that this is the case. It appears that Botox use can indeed reduce our response to emotional situations.

Participants receiving Botox injections to the forehead (primarily involved in expressing negative emotions) were slower to read negative statements several weeks after a Botox injection than before – indicating that their comprehension speed for the emotional situations was reduced by the Botox treatment. While it may seem that speed at responding to sentences wouldn’t have a lot of real-life applications, consider that our ability to preferentially and quickly process emotional information has important implications across our lives – from our ability to quickly respond to a friend’s distress to our enjoyment of intensely emotional passages in our favorite novels.

So next time you see one of those ads nudging you to try Botox so that you look young in your daughter’s wedding photo, consider whether you would rather look young or if you’d rather look (and feel) happy.

Sarah Rose Cavanagh, Ph.D., is professor of psychology in affective science at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. To learn more about her research, please visit http://bit.ly/sarahrose.

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Comments (4)

  • I have had botox twice as a treatment for chronic migraines. It wasn't so bad and made my forehead look fantastic, but the second time my right eye drooped for about twice weeks. That was horrifying and so embarrassing.

  • Usual caveats apply - more research needs to be done before we broadly apply the results to a range of emotional situations. These researchers actually only looked at negative emotions, and so the results are limited. More will surely follow!

    Diane, sorry to hear about your experience! Thanks for sharing.

  • Sorry Diana - didn't mean to call you Diane!

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