DURHAM, N. C. - Botox injections may hide more than just the effects of aging. New research from Duke University and USC found people injected with Botox may have trouble telling what other people are thinking and feeling. 

The disconnect appears rooted in people's unconscious tendency to read others' emotions by mimicking their facial expressions.

The study, by David Neal, a psychology professor at USC, and Tanya Chartrand, a marketing and psychology professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, appears in the current edition of Social Psychology and Personality Science. It furthers the theory that humans decode each other's expressions partly by simulating the perceived expressions of others in their own facial musculature.

"People who receive Botox injections - which paralyzes muscles to remove wrinkles - are not only dampening their own ability to communicate through facial expression, but are also less able to interpret others' emotions," Chartrand said. "Perceivers subtly and unconsciously mimic others' facial expressions, a process that sends signals from the face to the brain. Perceivers use this feedback to reproduce and understand emotional meaning of facial expressions."

Botox users are unable to appropriately mimic - and interpret - the emotional meaning of facial expressions. As a result, "People who use Botox are less able to read others' emotions," Neal said. "When we mimic, we get a window into another person's inner world. When we can't mimic, that window is a little darker."

The researchers compared people who had the Botox procedure against a control group who had a cosmetic procedure that does not reduce muscular feedback. Emotion perception accuracy was considerably lower among the Botox group.

"Botox users can't understand the emotions of other people because they're unable to mimic them," Chartrand said. "That inability to mimic eliminates a crucial part of interpersonal communication." 

"It's somewhat ironic that people use Botox to function better in social situations," Neal said. "You may look better, but you could suffer because you can't communicate as effectively."

Contact: Chris Privett, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Tel +1.919.660.8090, Email: chris. privett@duke. edu

Source: Duke University's Fuqua School of Business

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