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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 03-Apr-09


Friday 03-April-09

Expression, emotion and botox

What makes you happy? Well, there's lots of things you can do and think about to cheer yourself up and make yourself smile, but did you know that it works backwards too. Just smiling, even when you don't feel like it, is enough to actually make you feel better.

This emotive reversal is a principle that was noticed over 100 years ago by psychologist William James. Even Charles Darwin had a 'facial feedback hypothesis' about it.

A question that perplexed researcher Andreas Hennenlotter was whether it is the facial movement that triggers the emotion or the neural thought to physically smile that also fires off the happy feeling. Hennenlotter came up with the solution of using women who had been given Botox injections for cosmetic purposes. Botox is a toxin that paralyses muscles, with the aesthetic result that wrinkles are not allowed to be created.

38 women had their brains scanned before and after Botox injections while they imitated pictures of sad or angry facial expressions. Imitating an angry or sad facial expression led to increased activity in all subjects, in both left and right of the emotion-focused amygdala, though for angry expressions, activity in the left amygdala was lower in the women who had received Botox. This indicates that jiust pulling an angry expression without actually being angry has an effect on the amygdala and likely also emotions.

There was no difference between groups iwhen they pulled sad facial expressions, but there were differences in orbitofrontal cortex activity, which is involved in evaluating the emotion of touch signals.

The bottom line is neural support for Darwin's and James' theory, that just forcing an emotional expression can lead to feeling the associated emotion. You can do the experiment yourself. Just smile when you are feeling neutral or a bit down and see how much happier you become.

I also wonder if this could become a skill. With practice, can you more easily make yourself happy just by smiling? And could you stop feeling so sad by keeping a straight face? And who could you help by teaching these skills?

Hennenlotter, A., Dresel, C., Castrop, F., Ceballos Baumann, A., Wohlschlager, A., & Haslinger, B. (2008). The Link between Facial Feedback and Neural Activity within Central Circuitries of Emotion--New Insights from Botulinum Toxin-Induced Denervation of Frown Muscles Cerebral Cortex, 19 (3), 537-542

Your comments

You could learn how to use it from a cognitive behavior therapist. Relaxation techniques are based on James' theory as well as some other theories.

-- Ipek P

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