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New Side Effect of Botox: Emotionless LIfe


Botox injections work by paralyzing the underlying muscles in the face that cause wrinkles. It is well known that the procedure then limits the ability to express emotions, but a recent study found that the popular injections may also decrease the ability to actually feel those emotions. Now one can ad one more side effect to Botox procedures.

According to statistics by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Botox was the number one non-surgical cosmetic procedure performed last year. The procedure involves the injection of a neurotoxin which causes temporary paralysis of facial muscles in an effort to smooth out wrinkles.

Read: Botox - More Than Just a Wrinkle Eraser

In a study conducted by lead researcher Joshua Ian Davis, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Barnard College in New York City, participants who received Botox watched emotional video clips and reported their personal emotional response. The researchers compared the emotional response to those watching the same videos, but who had had treatment with a wrinkle filler called Restylane, which does not paralyze muscles.

The intention of the study was to prove the “facial feedback” hypothesis, which suggests that our facial expressions can affect our emotional experience. The researchers confirmed their theory when they found that those who received Botox injections self-reported a “decrease in the strength of the emotional experience” as compared to their Restylane counterparts.

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“For at least some emotions, if you take away some part of the facial expression, you take away some of the emotional experience,” says Davis. “Whether this is a benefit or a detriment depends on your goals.” He agrees that more research is needed to validate and expand on his work.

“We have not had a chance to specifically isolate each muscle group and determine how they relate to specific emotions," he says. “The kinds of things that would be most interesting to follow up on is to try look more closely at specific emotions and specific muscles such as frown lines, crow’s feet, smile lines.”

Read: Botox Can Improve First Impressions for Attractiveness, Dating

Allergan, Inc, the company that manufactures Botox, disagrees with the study findings. Spokesperson Kellie Lao told WebMd that the study does not support the theory that facial expression is necessary to trigger an emotional response.

Steven H. Dayan MD, clinical assistant professor of facial plastic surgery at the University of Illinois agrees with Lao and Davis that the research findings are preliminary. “People who get Botox or other injectables do feel better about themselves…and if people look friendlier, happier, or nicer, they probably feel that way as well.”

The effects of BOTOX injections on emotional experience. Davis, Joshua Ian; Senghas, Ann; Brandt, Fredric; Ochsner, Kevin N. Emotion, Vol 10(3), Jun 2010, 433-440. doi: 10.1037/a0018690