Can Botox affect your ability to empathise?



In our flat when we’ve had a long, hardworking day a favourite pass time is to pop on a movie and look for sensational facial over-acting. This works best when it’s a Nicole Kidman movie and not so well when it’s Pixar’s Cars. TV shows also provide ample scenes; I have recently discovered Franklin & Bash, which has a refreshing amount of wrinkles on show (plus I think the show is brilliant). Flexible face acting I call it, because once the emphasis has been registered, the forehead bounces back to being lovely smooth china with not a ripple in sight.


Do wrinkles tell the story of the face’s adventures?


I have met quite a few people who have had Botox or would definitely contemplate it, including one lovely person who had it done “just to see what it felt like”. I care about the effects of ageing as much as the next person, but injecting myself with botulinum toxin has never appealed.


Last month I wrote about preliminary research that suggested having more wrinkles was associated with a lower bone mineral density in early menopausal women. Now it turns out that having Botox to paralyze facial muscles also make it harder to read other people’s emotions.

I know- you should have heard my surprise as well. I imagined the research would’ve shown it was harder for others to read the emotions of the Botoxed one, but the other way around? It appears that Botox interrupts our “embodied cognition” which is when we mimic someone else’s facial expression to empathize with their emotions.  Neuroscientist Tanya L Chartrand, who published the study with her colleague David T Neal, describes it as: “So if you are wincing in pain I immediately do a micro-wince, and that sends signals to my brain that this person is experiencing pain, and by experiencing it myself I now understand what you are going through”.


This interference leads to people who have had Botox finding it harder to relate to others. This goes to show that things we do to our bodies have a ripple effect, good and bad. A person may decide to join the gym and exercise more to lose some weight and find that they have more energy and over time, perhaps a greater sense of self-confidence that helps them ride out the bumps in everyday life. Conversely many people might consider Botox another tool to fight ageing but don’t realize that its effects could appear below the surface.


Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This doesn’t have to apply only to physics, and the reaction may not be exactly opposite, but like in TCM, we understand that everything has a cause and effect. What do you think- would you have Botox knowing that it can hamper your relationships? Or do you think empathy comes in different ways?


You can read the full interview with Tanya L Chartrand here.

Photo credit: C Dekeersmaeker via flickr

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