Science and Environment

The emotional cost of being wrinkle-free

DE RERUM NATURA - Maria Isabel Garcia -

I seldom have the chance to watch regular TV shows but when I do, I look at the supposedly familiar faces of veteran hosts, anchors and actors and then I sense that something is amiss. Now, because of some protein that a certain bacteria has involuntary donated to cosmetic science, many celebrities look like puffed pastry or successful soufflé versions of their former selves. We can still recognize them but only after we worry about them.

I am referring to botolinum toxin, aka botox. And you all have to know that I have no deep emotional attachment or repulsion to Botox users. My responsibility is to tell you what science has to say about it, in its many dimensions.

While opinions may vary as to whether Botox injections really make you look beautiful because they rid your face of lines associated with aging, there has hardly been any information available on what else it could relax aside from muscles, particularly frowning muscles. But this week, hot off the science journals, a study came out this July in the journal Psychological Science entitled “Cosmetic use of botolinum toxin-A affects processing of emotional language.” It turns out that Botox affects the way you are able to process your own emotional language. In essence, while you prevent your lines from showing, you also hamper your own ability to express yourself to, well, yourself. The study was conducted by David Havas, Arthur M. Glenberg, Karol Gutowski, Mark J Lucarelli and Richard Davidson.

In order to fully express sad and angry emotions, our brain also cues the responsible facial muscle to move accordingly. The muscular character of these negative emotions goes to a body part that sounds like a shredding machine — a muscle called “corrugator supercilii” also known as the frowning muscle. The scientists wanted to find out if paralyzing this muscle, which is what Botox injections do, hinders our ability to process sad and angry language.

The experiment had ladies injected with the toxin in their frowning muscle and then had them read emotionally laden sentences. At the end of a sentence read, they asked them to press a button to indicate if they understood the meaning of the sentence or not. The result showed that there was a significant delay in the time it took for the subjects to read the sentences compared to before they had the injections. These applied only to the “sad and angry” sentences.

You may ask “but how could the delay in my reading a sad or angry sentence say something about how well I process those emotions?” The scientists cited two reasons which I think essentially reminded us that emotions, intangible as they seem, maintains a correspondence with our brains which depend on feedback from body parts involved.

First, when you say “My best friend of fifty years has just betrayed me and he even grinned and held my hand as he said ‘it was all a lie,’” your face assumes an expression in which it recruits the corrugator supercilii to contort. If this facial muscle could not move, the brain senses this and somehow, the “meaning circuit” is not completed. The other reason they cited has to do with what they think is the overall internal state of your body with regard to how it processes emotions. They think that if for a prolonged period, your frowning muscle is unable to do this, you will disrupt the way you process your own emotions because of the lack of consistent muscle feedback necessary. In fact, they cited other studies that have revealed that the brain parts that were responsible for emotions had less activity than before Botox injections and this was two weeks before an experiment that required episodes of emotional expression!

Like show business, it seems Botox has two faces. Aside from ironing out that facial crease, it is also an emotion disruptor and that is a revelation to us all with this new study. This is important to know if you are considering Botox and you spend most of your days and nights on camera, giving life to a range of human emotions. You may now have to choose between not having a wrinkle and not being able to fully experience a good cry. Until they come up with an award for The Most Wrinkle-free Performance in a film or TV program, you may want to think about setting your soul on fire on screen with the full force of your “corrugators,” wrinkles and all.

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