Science-- there's something for everyone

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blocking a frown may block bad feelings


Yesterday, I wrote about botulinum toxin, the most deadly toxin known to man, causing paralysis and death in nanogram (billionths of a gram) amounts. Interestingly, there is fairly widespread medical usage for botulism. It’s being used to treat a variety of illnesses that result in muscle spasms or the inability to relax certain muscles (dystonia) as well as excessive sweating.

And of course, there’s the cosmetic use of Botox, in which the nerve poison is used to paralyze the facial muscles used in wrinkling one’s brow. David Havas of the University of Wisconsin-Madison wondered whether the inability to make a proper brow-wrinkling frown could affect people’s cognition or emotional state.

In a study to be published in the journal Psychological Science, he asked volunteers who were planning to use Botox to read a variety of sentences describing either happy, sad, or maddening events. The subjects were then retested two weeks after the Botox treatment. There was no difference in the time it took them to read and understand the happy sentences, but there was a small but significant delay in the time it took the subjects to comprehend the sad or angry statements.

The researchers speculate that the Botox treatment interrupted a feedback loop between perceived emotion and expression of emotion. On the one hand, this could mean that consumers of Botox and other frown reducing treatments will have happier outlooks. On the other, it could make them appear to be out of touch with their companions’ emotional states. And not just because they always have the same facial expressions.