Still thinking about botox for your aging skin? Well, you may take years off of y0ur face but it appears that you may also put up a barrier to one of the most important communication tools humans possess: the ability to accurately make emotional judgements based on expressions. Ultimately, this implies that botoxing not only smooths signs of aging but also numbs social interactions.
Bubble-worthy? You bet! This week we’re bursting the aging bubble wide open and challenging the societal push and pull towards the elusive Fountain of Youth.
So, what have researchers learned?
First, a bit of background and psychobabble. It is believed that facial expressions are powerful clues into inner thoughts and emotions, and that humans subconsciously mimic this expression in order to decode, or perceive it. Less clear, however, is whether or not we can use these clues to make better judgements about one another.
To find this out, researchers conducted two experiments:
- In the first, a small group of women received either Botox injections (which paralyze facial muscles) or Restylane filler (which plumps wrinkles) for the purpose of smoothing facial wrinkles that are most often associated with expression, i.e., frown lines, forehead and crows feet in the Botox group and frown and laugh lines in the Restylane group. They were then shown images used to convey emotional states through the eyes and surrounding areas only and asked to select the emotion that best demonstrated the respective expression.
- In the second, the researchers applied a restrictive gel to the lower forehead, brow and area surrounding the eyes that when dried, would tighten facial muscle contractions in half the group, and then applied the gel to the inner arm in the other half. They then conducted a test in which the participants were asked to judge emotions in brief audio clips and then took a quiz that would measure how much brain power was used to evaluate emotional cues.
Although botox didn’t completely block out women’s ability to discern emotional cues, perception was significantly lowered compared to women who had had Restylane. Interesting enough is that the researchers allude to a previous study that shows a similar dulling of reactions to emotional stimuli, implying that botox appears to interfere with emotional processing. What’s more, while the women who had restrictive gel applied to their face appeared to be better able to judge emotional expression but only the type that they would normally mimic themselves. However, the ability to judge audio emotions were the same whether the gel was applied to the face or inner arm. This suggests that facial muscle mimicry is essential.
So what do these findings really mean? Researchers say that it is possible that prolonged use of Botox could lead to changes in the way that our central nervous systems process emotions and even diminish the feedback we get from other people’s expressions. This may also effect social interactions and close relationships.
Is it an absolute? No. However, this information does suggestion that short-term gains in appearance might have longer term ramifications, such as interfering with important emotion cues and even the way the brain processes them.
I’m not sure that that’s worth the price of a smoother face. What do you think?