By smoothing our skin, Botox injections and other cosmetic procedures can make our facial expressions disappear. However, some experts point out that these lines of expression are essential to recognize the emotions of others, but also to feel them.
Women smooth out fine lines and wrinkles, make their lips fuller… To stay young and desirable, more and more women – and men – use minimally invasive cosmetic procedures.
Botox injections, hyaluronic acid or chemical peelings… Performed by dermatologists or by plastic surgeons, these procedures, which do not require surgery, have become common. Since 2000, the practice of Botox injections has increased by more than 800%, while “mini face-lifts” allow people to be rejuvenate their eyes, forehead, chin or cheekbones.
Although these procedures keep us looking young, they also have one drawback: they erase the wrinkles that form when we smile or frown, they erase our facial expressions. At least that’s the opinion of Paula Niedenthal, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When asked by the New York Times, this facial expression specialist explains that our wrinkles have an emotional and social importance: it is thanks to them that we interact with others, that we transmit our emotions to them… and so we feel them. “Nowadays people are constantly reorganizing their facial appearance to avoid facial expressions, because they have no idea how we use our faces to coordinate and manage social interactions,” says Paula Niedenthal.
Botox injections and surgery, by immobilizing our facial features and freezing our expressions, help to ease our feelings. This is what researchers call “facial mimicry “: every time we interact with another person – friends, family, colleagues, children, spouse – we subconsciously and subtly adapt to the other person’s facial expressions.
“By showing the other person’s expressions, not only is it an indication that you are engaged and participating, but it is also a kind of feedback loop that helps you empathize,” says the New York Times. But “if you somehow impede your ability to do that, you change the social dynamics between you and the other person.
This is the case, for example, when someone wears a hockey mouth guard, bites something or chews gum, but also when Botox injections paralyze our expressions. Analysis of fMRI scans has shown that people who have received injections have less activation in areas of the brain used to interpret and modulate emotional states. Studies have also shown that the intensity of the emotional experience decreases after Botox injections.
A decoupling of our emotions
The researchers also found that people who injected Botox into the crucial expressive muscles around the eyes and forehead also had more difficulty and were slower in interpreting and understanding emotions. “I think we seriously underestimate the power of our facial expressions,” says David Havas, associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, who studies facial mimicry. “We need to recognize how informative facial feedback is, and if we block it, we cut an important channel for our personal and social emotions.
Hence the importance of preserving our wrinkles even if they show our age. Unlike animals, they give us millions of facial expressions that connect us to others, make us feel their emotions and help us empathize. “Facial mimicry is a very old connection mechanism and it’s not something we want to see disturbed by Botox or other procedures,” says Frans de Waal, a primatologist and ethologist at Emory University, “Today I think primates are sometimes smarter than humans at reading facial expressions and body language, because that’s all they have to do while we’re still waiting for words – and words can be very misleading.”