The Science Explorer Logo

Photobank/ CC BY 4.0

Botox Inhibits Deep Emotions and the Ability to Empathize

The price of defying the natural aging process may take more of a toll on your emotional state than your wallet.

| 2 min read

The price of defying the natural aging process may take more of a toll on your emotional state than your wallet.

Botox procedures are often advertised as the solution to insecurities and negative emotions, but the changes aren’t more than skin deep. A recent study shows that, although Botox can dilute certain insecurities, it also inhibits the ability to feel deep emotions and empathize with others.

Botox works by paralyzing the muscles involved in facial expressions. Although most of the toxins are temporary, research suggests that the facial muscles don’t ever fully recover from the injections, says nurse practitioner Helen Collier who was involved with the study. Basically, Botox is creating an era of “frozen faces” which could prevent people from being able to feel deep emotions.

SEE ALSO: Woman sees for first time in 16 years, thanks to bionic eye

It’s normal to smile when we’re happy or frown when we’re sad, but these facial expressions also reinforce what we’re feeling. That’s why when you feel down and a friend finally makes you laugh, you feel a sense of instantaneous relief and happiness just from cracking a smile.

This concept dates back to the 19th century when Charles Darwin proposed that our emotional responses influence the way we feel. He wrote, “The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it.” While Botox takes away those age-defying wrinkles, it does this by taking away the freedom to express genuine emotions. Once that freedom is gone, it becomes more difficult to truly feel.

A modern study by David T. Neal, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, and Tanya L. Chartrand, professor of marketing and psychology at Duke University, tested the abilities of Botoxed women to decipher emotions. When confronted with a set of photographs of human eyes, women with Botox were significantly less able to match the eyes to the appropriate human emotions than plain old wrinkled adults.

Botox never crosses the blood-brain barrier, so its effects on emotions are solely caused by its restraints on the facial muscles. A psychology study at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that the restricting effects of Botox don’t always have to be negative, however.

After administering an anxiety and depression questionnaire, researchers found that those who had received frown-inhibiting Botox injections were, on average, happier than people who could frown. In general, the Botox recipients reported feeling happier and less anxious. Importantly, this psychological boost didn’t come from feeling more attractive, because they reported that they didn’t feel any more good-looking than before the procedures. But some may argue that this happiness isn’t genuine — it’s a direct effect of the Botox taking away their ability to frown.

While Botox can prevent wrinkles, it inhibits the genuine emotional experiences that cause those wrinkles — an essential part of being human. To have a well-rounded human experience, it’s important to feel all of the sensations that come with life’s curveballs.

Related Content