It turns out that Botox can actually short circuit a person’s ability to feel unhappy. Because of the apparent validation of something called the, “Facial Feedback Hypothesis”, the fact that Botox prevents frowning… also short circuits one’s ability to fully feel the emotions associated with it.
David Havas of the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to study people who had received Botox treatments that paralyzed one pair of their corrugator muscles, which cause the forehead to constrict into a frown.
The idea was to see whether Botox affected the ability to feel certain emotions.
He had 40 volunteers who were planning to be Botoxed in two weeks read statements with particular emotional charge segmented into three categories:
Angry (“the pushy telemarketer won’t let you return to your dinner”)
Sad (“you open your e-mail inbox on your birthday to find no new e-mails”),
Happy (“the water park is refreshing on the hot summer day.”).
After reading each sentence, the volunteers pushed a button to indicate they had understood it.
Then, two weeks after their Botox injections, they repeated the exercise, reading and understanding another list of emotion-producing sentences. The volunteers pressed the “I’ve read and understood this” button just as quickly when the sentence conveyed something happy.
But when it conveyed something infuriating or unhappy… people took longer to read and understand it.
The emotions simply did not compute as easily as before their sadness and anger muscles were paralyzed.
“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,” UW-Madison professor emeritus of psychology Arthur Glenberg (and Havas’s adviser) said in a statement.
“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.”
The research is part of a exciting field called “embodied cognition,” which posits that all our cognitive processes are rooted in, and reflected in, the body. I think this is very interesting.
Some very interesting questions come to mind if this is replicated. Can we simply paralyze certain expressions out of existance? Can we simulate “happy” expressions somehow in order to help people experience deeper levels of happiness?
This also seems to demonstrate just how complicated our emotional lives are. It kind of flies in the face of the notion that all you have to do is think yourself into certain states of being – it appears you need a body that can cooperate!
Anyway, I would love to know what you think about this! Please do comment.
*source: University of Wisconsin