Botox and the Freezing of Emotions

In one of the more interesting experiments that have been conducted, Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, wanted to find out whether facial expressions can affect emotions. For a long time it has been known that our inner life is expressed outwardly: the stench of spoiled food turns our noses up; the gaze of a lover produces a smile; the snarling of an angry dog widens our eyes in preparation for flight. 


Davidson was working under an assumption dating back to Charles Darwin: changing your facial expression can shift your emotions. While this hypothesis was only backed anecdotally, he realized an opportunity to test this idea awaited him inside of Madison cosmetic surgery clinics.

Botulinum toxin was discovered for its role as being a toxic agent in improperly handled meat products in the late nineteenth century—it was initially dubbed 'sausage poison.' German medical writer and physician Justinus Kerner was the first to dream up a therapeutic application for it, naming it botulism, from the Latin botulus, meaning 'sausage.'

It was not until 1949, however, that Arnold Burgen's group discovered that the toxin blocks neuromuscular transmission; hence, the freezing of frown lines. Forty years more were required for Botox to go from a medical tool for helping crossed eyes and uncontrollable blinking, as well as slowing the spasms of our lower esophageal sphincter, to the projected $4.7 billion global industry by 2018. 

Today it's the rare mainstream newscaster who doesn't get a 'little help' with those glabellar lines, which is actually the result of a temporary paralysis of the corrugator muscle. Davidson and his colleague, Arthur Glenberg, brought in a number of women from local clinics to monitor their reactions, both before and after an injection of Botox, to three different sentences: one to induce anger, another sadness, the third happiness. 

Interestingly, the corrugator muscle plays a role in expressing anger and sadness, though has nothing to do with smiling. As predicted, the women's reaction times to the happiness-incuding phrase did not slow their response. The other two were affected by an average of a quarter-second. This might not seem an eternity, but in neuroscience research, it is. 

As Davidson writes,

What we suspect happened is that when the women could not frown or make a sad expression, their brain was deprived of signals that normally reach the insula and somatosensory cortex and from there travel to language areas in the left hemisphere where meaning is decoded.

Davidson's work has helped overturn the longstanding notion that emotions play no role in our logic and reasoning processes (it does), as well as this research, which shows that how we carry ourselves physically is on a feedback loop with what we feel inside. By changing how we express ourselves, we change our inner world as well.

If our concern is too heavily weighted towards external appearance, however, we potentially damage our relationship with our emotional wellbeing. Early Christian ethics writers inherently knew that pride and envy ravage bitter wars upon the societies of humankind. Turns out they were right.

Image: Lestertair/shutterstock.com

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Saying no is hard. These communication tips make it easy.

You can say 'no' to things, and you should. Do it like this.

Videos
  • Give yourself permission to say "no" to things. Saying yes to everything is a fast way to burn out.
  • Learn to say no in a way that keeps the door of opportunity open: No should never be a one-word answer. Say "No, but I could do this instead," or, "No, but let me connect you to someone who can help."
  • If you really want to say yes but can't manage another commitment, try qualifiers like "yes, if," or "yes, after."
Keep reading Show less

Apparently even NASA is wrong about which planet is closest to Earth

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less