Botox has become borderline mainstream over the years. Women (and men) from all walks of life have taken the poisonous plunge in the war against wrinkles.
But does this beauty treatment have a side effect that could be worthy of a few worry lines?
Research from 2011 found that getting Botox injections means you may not be able to empathize as well as you used to. And if you can’t put yourself into your partner’s shoes, rocky relationship territory could very well be ahead.
According to The New York Times, the study — performed by professors David T. Neal and Tanya L. Chartrand — showed that people who receive Botox injections aren’t able to mimic the emotions of others.
They physically aren’t able to do so, and since they can’t copy the emotional responses of the people they interact with, they can’t empathize; thus, they have no idea what they’re feeling. Yikes.
This study stemmed from 1980s research which proved that happily married couples often resembled each other over time and began to wear the same expressions.
The professors asked, “What’s going to happen now that there’s Botox?” Will these couples still be able to empathize? Will they still be as happy?
The researchers thought the substance might affect “embodied cognition,” or the way our faces respond when we interact with another person. Generally, they mirror what we see. If a person is visibly upset, our faces will mimic a frown. This form of copycat behavior sends a signal from our faces to our brains, where we can then begin to empathize with another’s emotions.
After a little testing, the researchers were dead-on with their prediction: Botox messes with a person’s ability to perceive the feelings of others.
Neal and Chartrand tested women who were given Botox against a control group of women who were given Restylane (a substance that doesn’t affect facial movement). They showed the women photos of human eyes and asked them to match those same eyes with human emotions.
As it turned out, the women with Botox injections were significantly less perceptive when it came to decoding the expressions. On average, Botox users got two more wrong out of 36 than the Restylane users did.
More research done in 2016 continued to back up the claims that Botox affects people’s perceptions of emotions.
A researcher involved in the 2016 study explained, “Our study was devised to investigate embodied cognition. At the same time, we think that awareness of this consequence will be of use to those involved in aesthetic medicine, not least to adequately inform people seeking to undergo these treatments.”
A 2023 study, in which researchers conducted fMRI brain scans on people before and after receiving Botox injections, further backs up these claims. Because of disrupted signaling between their facial muscles and their brains, those who have received Botox appear to have more difficulty interpreting the emotions of others.
So, if you ever want to be able to feel anything again, you may want to rethink getting those Botox injections done. Or, just go ahead and roll with your new life as an emotionless robot. You do you.
Jenna Birch is a former author, journalist, & editor. She currently leads narrative & communications at a venture capital firm.