Researchers suggest Botox can reduce ability to feel emotions

Jun 24, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Botox

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers studying the effects of Botox, a chemical used to smooth out facial wrinkles, have found the paralysis of facial muscles can reduce feedback to the brain and in turn reduce the intensity of emotional responses, especially to mildly positive stimuli.

Botox contains a protein (onabotulinumtoxinA) that temporarily paralyzes the that create the creases we call wrinkles. This reduces wrinkles, but can also make the face lack expression and appear frozen.

One of the leaders of the research team, Joshua Davis, a psychologist at New York’s Barnard College, said a person who has been injected with Botox can respond to an emotional stimulus, but the limited ability to change facial expressions leads to limited feedback to the brain from the unmoving facial muscles. Davis said this effect allowed the scientists to design a test of the facial feedback hypothesis (FFH) which suggests facial expressions can influence the intensity of feelings in response to emotional experiences.

Dr. Davis, Ann Senghas, and colleagues studied people being treated with Botox, showing each subject emotionally charged videos before and after their injections. Members of the control group were people being treated with Restylene, which is injected into facial wrinkles and lips to fill out the sagging skin, but which does not limit muscle movement.

The results, published in the journal Emotion indicated the Botox patients reported an “overall significant decrease in the strength of emotional experience” compared to the Restalyne group. The response to mildly positive clips was especially reduced after the injections. The group on Restylene did not experience the reduced , but did show an unexpected increase in response to negative clips.

The researchers said the results suggest feedback from facial expressions is not necessary for emotional experience, but may exert an influence in some circumstances.

The research was prompted by an idea originating over 100 years ago that feedback to the brain from can influence emotional experience. In other words, smiling can make you feel happier, while frowning can make you feel unhappy.

injections were the most common non-surgical cosmetic procedure used in the USA in 2009, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Explore further: Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

More information: Journal paper: psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/a0018690

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User comments : 2

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ArtflDgr
not rated yet Jun 24, 2010
Explains a lot about a certain lady public figure...
Neuroshift
5 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2010
The article fails to mention that the researchers found no difference at all in responses to the strongly emotional film clips in the Botox group before and after treatment, whether the clips were strongly positive or strongly negative. The only statistically-significant reduction in emotional response among the Botox-treated group came in viewing film clips of a "mildly positive" emotional character.

On the latter point, it appears that the researchers failed to control for baseline mood in their experiments. Anecdotal reports suggest that people who receive Botox injections also often experience an improvement in baseline mood. So here's the problem: for people who are already in a good mood, mildly positive images should have little emotional import because they match these people's current emotional state. Thus, the Botox subjects' responses to mildly positive images could be reduced simply because these images don't make a difference.
--@neuroshift

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