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Plastic Surgery, Botox and Facial Expressions


Many people ask me how plastic surgery and botox affect the reading of and interpretation of facial expressions.

The short answer: it confuses everything.

The long answer:

Botox and plastic surgery limits a person’s ability to make full facial expressions. This not only effects how they feel their own emotions, but also how empathetic they are with others.

This is a frightening finding. As plastic surgery and Botox become more and more prevalent, emotional connection is going to be in jeopardy. Let’s look at what the research says.

plastic surgery, botox, facial expressions

How Botox Affects Understanding

A new study from the University of Wisconsin looked at participants who had received Botox to prevent frowning. The research that was presented at the Society for Personal and Social Psychology in Las Vegas, and will be published in the journal Psychological Science is headed by University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology Ph.D. candidate David Havas.

He has found that blocking the expression of emotion actually changes how we understand and feel the emotion. In order to see how blocking a frown with botox might affect comprehension, Havas had participants read written statements before and then two weeks after the Botox treatment. The statements were:

  • Angry: “The pushy telemarketer won’t let you return to your dinner”
  • Sad: “You open your email in-box on your birthday to find no new emails”
  • Or Happy: “The water park is refreshing on the hot summer day.”

Havas wanted to see how quickly a participant could interpret the emotion expressed by the statement. He had them press a button when they had finished reading and interpreting it. The participants had no change in comprehension time for the happy statements, which makes sense since the botox injection was geared at frown lines (for sadness). But the subjects took more time to read the angry and sad phrases.

The conclusion: When you can’t make the face, you have trouble understanding it.

This means that people who have received botox are going to have a harder time reading the people around them.

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 9.37.56 AMHow Botox Affects Emotions

Eric Finzi argues in his book, “How Botox Affects Our Moods and Relationships” that numbing our expressions, numbs our emotions. This is for both “good” and “bad” emotions. He found that botox to frown or sadness lines brings relief to depressed patients. But he also argues that botox to happiness wrinkles lessens feelings of happiness.

The conclusion: When you can’t express the emotion, you feel it less.

How Botox Affects Empathy

According to the latest research by David Neal and Tanya Chartrand, people who have received Botox shots and are physically not able to copy the face of the person they are speaking with, have trouble feeling empathy for them.

This is based on “embodied cognition,” which is when someone unconsciously mimics the person they are speaking with by copying their facial expression. When this happens, a signal is generated in the listeners brain that helps them understand the other person’s emotional intent.

Women who received Botox had a much harder time identifying facial expressions from pictures. The researchers argue this is because they could not make the face. More importantly, this makes it difficult to feel empathy for the people you are speaking with. With botox literally you cannot feel or mimic their pain.

See Lack of Emotions in Action

plastic surgery body langauge

Desiree Young, the biological mother of the missing Kyron Horman speaks to reporters in this video. And you will notice that she is having an expression of emotion but her face is completely still.

You can see when Desiree Young begins to “cry.” This is a very interesting video to watch. You notice her breathing rate increases and her vocal chords become tense–all signs of intense emotion. BUT her face doesn’t move at all! Literally her forehead has no wrinkles and her eyebrows don’t move! Then a few seconds later we finally see some wrinkles in the upper part of her forehead. Very, very faintly. Do you see it?

Obviously, I can’t confirm that Desiree Young has had botox or plastic surgery, but I think that this is a good example of how numb her face is. Her body and voice is showing stress but her face is placid.

The decision to get botox or plastic surgery is more than a cosmetic choice. It is an emotional choice. When thinking about botox and plastic surgery we have to address some of the emotional repercussions of numbing both our face and our feelings.

Citations:

“Embodied Emotion Perception: Amplifying and Dampening Facial Feedback Modulates Emotional Perception Accuracy” by David T. Neal and Tanya L. Chartrand, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

David Havas, University of Wisconsin. “How Botox Affects Emotional Understanding.” http://www.news.wisc.edu/17602

Finzi, Eric. The Face of Emotion: How Botox Affects Our Moods and Relationships. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

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All Rights Reserved + COPYRIGHT 2013 Science of People, LLC

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.


10 Comments


  1. Mohamed Nabil

    I’ve comment about your conclusion “When you can’t express the emotion, you feel it less”. from my experience, facial expression is not the only way to express feelings cause there are other parts of our body which take over, so if someone can’t express his feelings using facial expressions he will use other parts of his body, I mean our mind will transfer the block of expressing our feeling using facial expressions to any part else like increasing of heart beats, hand movements,.. etc. I already experienced this behavior before also Desiree Young as you said.

    1. Vanessa Van Edwards

      Hi,

      That is true, emotions come out in multiple ways not only the face but also the body as well as voice tone and even movement!

      Thanks for adding!
      Vanessa

  2. Robby Smith

    This such an interesting article on how Botox affects our emotions! This kind of procedure comes with an expensive cost on your wallet, and on your micro-exprssions (being able to express your feelings).

  3. Andrew

    It is a little unsettling how big the botox and plastic face industry has gotten, but I am glad that people can at least be made aware of how much botox affects people from a physiological standpoint.

  4. Bella Perennis

    It’s really interesting. How does this affect people who show very little facial expression in general? Does that make it more difficult to be empathetic towards them?

    1. Danielle McRae

      It can make it difficult to connect, though when we can’t judge an emotional response by the face, we’ll look for other cues in the body. So for example, if someone isn’t showing anger on their face, but their body is turned away and their arms are crossed over their body, our brains can infer that the person is most likely experiencing a negative response to the environment.

      Danielle | SOP Team

  5. Liam Hayes

    Super interesting article. It’s unfortunate that botox does that to people. These people just want to look young and healthy, but unfortunately the treatment comes with quite negative side effects.

  6. Lauren Freeman

    This is so concerning!! I cannot believe the negative emotional effects that accompany facial plastic surgery. I can’t imagine having that work done and then essentially becoming emotionally numb. It scares me even though I would never have plastic surgery done. I almost want to talk to someone who’s had botox to see if I can notice differences.

  7. Dan

    I believe that wrinkles are something like “record” of the emotions one has experienced through his life and should be embraced, not suppressed.
    +1 for natural, “botox free” face

  8. Karla

    Woah I love this article it is very eye opening in to how people don’t notice they are blocking their emotions from surfacing when getting these procedures and in a way it is very dehumanizing. The purpose of living is to feel and I can’t imagine not connecting with others.

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