Botox may inhibit ability to empathize in users

One of the running jokes about facial line and wrinkle reducing injection Botox is that it renders those who receive it emotionless.

The popular cosmetic treatment “freezes” facial muscles, preventing users from using and thereby damaging the skin with normal wear and tear. Botox can definitely reduce a person’s ability to express emotion, but a new study suggests it can interfere with users’ ability to empathize as well.

It’s not the expression of emotion that is the likely cause, per se, according to the study published late last week in Social Psychology and PersonalityScience. Rather, it seems some of the ability to genuinely empathize comes from miming others’ facial expressions- which Botox halts:

“People who use Botox are less able to read others’ emotions,” says Neal, who worked with a researcher at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

People read emotions partly by mimicking facial expressions, Neal says, so “if muscular signals from the face to the brain are dampened, you’re less able to read emotions.”

The study was based on two experiments that compared emotional perception linked to Botox use versus the popular facial filler Restylane. Neal says the study is important because it highlights “whether these procedures are having any indirect costs — reducing their ability to empathize and understand people’s emotions.”