Botox Blunts the Blues (a little)
In the Star Trek: Next Generation series, the Borg were a frightening species of cyborgs who roamed the universe in search of other species to bring into the "hive." As cyborgs, they were a blend of biological and machine parts -- most notably in their faces. As a side note, this made the facial expression of human emotion impossible.
A new study indicates that the Borg could have saved a ton on machine parts and made assimilation much simpler if they merely shot their victims up with Botox. Like Borg implants, Botox diminishes the range of expression patients can display, and also like Borg implants, Botox affects the mind.
The study, led by Dr. David Havas, psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, evaluated 40 first-time Botox patients both before and after treatment. In both evaluations, the patients were asked to read statements designed to make them happy, sad, or angry (things like: "someone just cut you off on the freeway," "you just got an unexpected check in the mail"). When the subjects understood the statements, they pushed a button. Interestingly, after having Botox injections, the patients took longer to respond to the angry and the sad statements. They responded to the happy statements in the same amount of time.
Scientists theorize that this has something to do with how Botox works. Botox (Botulinum Toxin A) injections paralyze the muscles that control frowning, and this soften the wrinkles associated with them. They also prevent recipients from frowning. People who can't frown tend to smile more, and research shows that mood actually follows expression. There's a term for this observation -- the "facial feedback hypothesis"-- which says that facial expressions like smiling and frowning signal the brain to produce corresponding emotional responses. In other words, put on a happy face and you'll find yourself feeling happier.
The researchers believe that because Botox makes recipients "frown-impaired," it decreases their ability to perceive negative statements. In a separate study, Murad Alam, associate professor of dermatology at Northwestern University, also looked at the connection between facial feedback and mood in Botox patients. According to Alam, "When we are sad, angry or frustrated, but we have Botox on board, our muscles do not contract to create furrows between our brows and deep creases on our foreheads. This lack of frowning and wrinkling works backward to adjust our emotions and make us happier."
According to Dr. Havas, "Botox induces a kind of mild, temporary cognitive blindness to information in the world, social information about the emotions of other people." But while Havas cautioned that blocking negative emotions with Botox could have the undesirable consequence of diminishing our ability to tell when things are not going well, Dr. Alam argued that the increased incidence of happiness with Botox outweighed any negative consequences of the delayed ability to perceive the negative. (Sounds to me like someone pitching assimilation into the Borg hive.)
In fact, while some, like Dr. Havas, might be horrified at the prospect at losing the ability to react normally to normal provocations, the Botox people take the news as a marketing miracle. They cite an earlier study in 2006 by the Society of Dermatologic Surgery that found that Botox can curb depression, making it seem like the paramount boon. Not only does it deliver the fountain of youth, but it also delivers the fountain of joy. With this latest study, it's being touted as a possible tool for anger management. Here's an excerpt from the website of Epione, a cosmetic surgery center in Beverly Hills: "So the next time you see those frown lines appearing, feel free to get BOTOX®. You may find yourself in a better mood--and not just because you look fantastic."
Unfortunately, in spite of the happy advertising ditties, there are some real risks associated with the use of Botox. When used for cosmetic purposes, the most common side effects include droopy eyelids, nausea, muscle weakness, facial pain, indigestion or heartburn, dental problems, and high blood pressure (hypertension). Other common side effects are cough, flu-like symptoms, back pain, runny or stuffy nose, dizziness, soreness at the injection site, weakness, dry mouth, drowsiness, bleeding at the injection site, infection, sore throat, and anxiety. Ironically, one of the most common side effects is increased anxiety accompanied by insomnia, which affects up to 10% of people treated with Botox, somewhat diminishing the promise of feeling bubbly after treatment. You might say that Botox can make you feel anxiously happy!
Worse still, in 2008 the FDA issued two warnings about Botox after 16 people, including four children under 18 years of age, died from Botox injections. Most of these people were being treated for cerebral palsy. In 2009, the FDA mandated a blackbox warning for Botox, citing the risk that the toxin could spread beyond the injection site and interfere with swallowing, breathing, and heart function. A definite bummer for anyone, let alone those thinking they might increase their happiness by injecting the stuff.
There is also the danger of severe reactions to the toxin in patients with diseases that affect neurotransmission (Lou Gerhigs disease, myashthenia gravis, Lamber-Eaton syndrome, etc.) Botulinum toxin can also affect the heart if enough of it is absorbed into the bloodstream, a possible contraindication for those with a history of heart disease. Since treatment with Botox consists of multiple skin injections, extra caution is recommended for patients with uncontrolled diabetes or disorders that affect blood clotting or wound healing.
Given the risks, you might want to take the natural approach to looking younger. As for getting happy, you could skip the injection of Botox and just force yourself to smile anyway. At least your reaction-time won't be impaired should the Borg show up at your door.