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Botox impairs ability to understand emotions of others

Injections smooth wrinkles but appear to lessen ability to understand others’ emotions, study from USC and Duke finds

April 22, 2011

People injected with Botox may have trouble telling what other people are thinking and feeling, a new USC and Duke study finds.

“People who use Botox are less able to read others’ emotions,” said USC psychology professor David Neal.

The disconnect happens because people read others’ emotions partly by mimicking their facial expressions, Neal said.

“When you mimic you get a window into their inner world,” Neal said. “When we can’t mimic, as with Botox, that window is a little darker.”

The study, by lead author Neal and Tanya Chartand, marketing and psychology professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, will be published April 22 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. It furthers the theory that humans decode each other’s expressions partly by simulating the perceived expression in their own facial musculature.

Botox paralyzes muscles to remove wrinkles, but those so-called signs of aging also hold clues into a person’s frame of mind – crow’s feet (disgust or a genuine smile), lines on the forehead (fear) or the valleys
in between the eyebrows (worry).

“It’s somewhat ironic — people use Botox to function better in social situations,” Neal said. “You may look better but you could suffer because you can’t read other people’s emotions as well.”

Researchers compared people who had the Botox procedure against a control group who had a cosmetic procedure that does not reduce muscular feedback.

“Human communication can be a very subtle thing,” Neal said. “When you eliminate a slice of information — whether by communicating through email and Twitter or by paralyzing your own facial muscles — it can be the difference between successful communication and failure.”

Future areas of study may include Botox’s effect on people’s ability to lie successfully and communicate effectively with their significant other.

“We are just beginning to explore how important mimicry and the body are in many psychological
processes,” Neal said. “The mind, of course is critical, but the body gives us important added information that helps us navigate the social world.”

Find the full text of the study here –

Contact: Eddie North-Hager (213) 740-9335 or