A new study to be published in the May issue of The Journal of Psychiatric Research finds that it may be possible to treat depression with Botox injections, which prevent patients from frowning.
The idea that our facial expressions can enhance, perhaps even create, emotional responses isn’t new
(Charles Darwin proposed the theory of “facial feedback hypothesis” way
back in 1872: “The free expression by outward signs of an emotion
intensifies it,” he wrote). Neither is the theory that, by inhibiting
one's ability to frown, Botox can improve one's mood. Back in 2008,
psychologists at the University of Cardiff in Wales provided an anxiety
and depression questionnaire to 25 women, half of whom had received
Botox injections. While those who received the Botox didn't say
they felt any more attractive than they had before the injection, they
did report feeling less anxious and happier (suggesting that Botox's
ability to boost one's mood can't simply be attributed to its ability to
boost one's appearance).
There are many reasons, the authors of the study to be published in The Journal of Psychiatric Research speculate,
why Botox may help alleviate the symptoms of depression. "First,
frowning may affect the way people feel about themselves when they look
in the mirror and the way others respond to them," they write;
Eliminating a person's ability to grimace will logically cause them to
interact more positively with those around them, boosting their mood.
Finally, and most dramatically, the authors hypothesize that the act of
frowning in itself may be a depressant. In other words, our brain
monitors "the extent of our facial muscle contraction and muscle
tension" (i.e.our facial expressions) and adjusts our mood accordingly;
Muscles tensed up into a grimace will cause the brain to generate the
corresponding emotional experience. Botox treatment, the authors
predict, "would interrupt the normal circuitry, reduce distress signals
to the brain and thereby influence mood in a favorable way."
Botox or no Botox, the study illustrates that our facial expressions
are important. Choosing to give into our dismal mood and frown – instead
of smiling through any internal unpleasantness – may impact our ability
to adopt a sunnier outlook.
Not only that, but our emotions are highly contagious.
Because we tend to mimic the behavior of those around us, we are highly
susceptible to "catching" each other's' moods. Both negative and
positive emotion can spread through an office much like a cold does.
Maybe the solution is Botox for everyone. Or perhaps it's simply to
heed the advice we all got (and rolled our eyes at) as children. The
next time you face a rainy Monday commute, go ahead and try it: Turn
that frown upside down and see what happens.