People who use Botox for cosmetic reasons report that they are able to use their faces in less mobile ways. That’s not surprising, given that botox impairs the muscles that produce wrinkles in the forehead and other areas. One byproduct of smoother skin is that users are not able to register emotional expressions in the way they could before. New research shows that reducing expressiveness tends to reduce the intensity of the underlying emotions, too.
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Hidden Brain Puzzle #21: Botox injections tend to make the faces of cosmetics-users somewhat immobile. Limiting the full range of facial expressions tends to
A) Make users experience emotions less strongly
B) Makes no difference to the emotions users experience
C) Makes users experience emotions somewhat more strongly
D) Makes users experience emotions much more strongly
The correct answer is A.
I based this puzzle on research by Joshua Davis and Ann Senghas, who found that disabling (or limiting) the expression of an emotion reduces the emotion itself. This matches with work done in the other direction — and a staple piece of counseling advice. When you fake an emotion such as happiness by smiling a lot, the production of the expression of an emotion tends to produce the emotion, too.
In a press statement from Barnard, where Davis and Senghas work, Davis said: “In a bigger picture sense, the work fits with common beliefs, such as ‘fake it till you make it’ … with the advent of Botox, it is now possible to work with people who have a temporary, reversible paralysis in muscles that are involved in facial expressions. The muscle paralysis allows us to isolate the effects of facial expression and the subsequent sensory feedback to the brain that would follow from other factors, such as intentions relating to one’s expressions, and motor commands to make an expression. With Botox, a person can respond otherwise normally to an emotional event, (such as) a sad movie scene, but will have less movement in the facial muscles that have been injected, and therefore less feedback to the brain about such facial expressivity. It thus allows for a test of whether facial expressions and the sensory feedback from them to the brain can influence our emotions.”
One of the more interesting philosophical dimensions of this research is the questions it raises about some of our cherished assumptions about the nature of individual identity. Most of us think we would be the same person minus a hand or a leg; certainly that a new kidney or a heart makes us no different as individuals. This thesis implicitly argues that our identity is located our brains. The new research, along with a bunch of other experiments and insights, suggests that our belief is not true. Happiness and sadness do not reside only in the brain; they also reside in the body.
John Milton once said that, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” One mustn’t quibble with poets, who are in the business of artistic truth and not literal truth, but there is growing evidence that the home for emotions as well as other cognitive functions is in the body as well (as much?) as in the brain.
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