Does Botox Block Your Ability To Understand Emotions?

Psychologists have long known about the facial feedback hypothesis-the idea that your facial expressions can make an impact on your emotions. Force yourself to smile, for example, and you may actually start feeling happier. But what if you've limited your expression-to-emotion connection with a denervating agent like Botox or Dysport?

Research out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, examined the link between Botox and feelings, specifically if the substance restricts experiencing emotions. Graduate student David Havas had 40 pre-Botox volunteers read sentences with specific emotional undertones, ranging from angry and annoyed to happy and serene. After reading each sentence, the volunteers would push a button to indicate that they understood each sentence.

Two weeks after receiving Botox injections, the volunteers performed the same exercise with similar emotionally stirring sentences. Although they pressed the button after pleasant sentences just as quickly as before, the volunteers took longer to indicate that they understood the unpleasant sentences.

"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," Havas's advisor and professor emeritus of psychology Arthur Glenberg explained. "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."

In other words, when you use Botox or Dysport to block frown lines, you could also be blocking your brain's ability to feel or understand the emotions that accompany frowning.

On the surface, this may appear to have its perks-who likes feeling sad or aggravated? But researchers are concerned that it could have a negative impact on the way we communicate with each other, especially when it comes to other people's interpretation of Botox recipients' empathy.