Excerpt from “Botox Treatment Slows Perception of Negative Emotions” by Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D., Psychology Today (January 31, 2010):
Our default assumption is that our eyes and our brains are the organs dedicated to processing emotional information. New work led by David Havas of the University of Wisconsin, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, provides a fascinating demonstration that our facial muscles share in this job.
The new study reported on 40 people who were treated with Botox. Tiny applications of the nerve poison were used to deactivate muscles in the forehead that cause frowning (the corrugator muscles).
Before and after the Botox treatment, patients were asked to read written statements that carried an emotional tenor, including statements that 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.")
The authors used reading time as a proxy for processing speed.
The results showed no change in the time needed to understand the happy sentences. But in a fascinating result, after Botox treatment, the subjects needed more time to read the angry and sad sentences…
Perhaps the most interesting implication of the study is scientific. It shows yet again that our systems for communicating and perceiving emotion are interconnected, often in surprising ways.