Inherently, many of us feel better after a good cry. Shakespeare knew it, too: “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” Whether releasing a chemical build-up (which has been another focus of research on crying; see Parachin’s article outlined below) or simply blubbering out a dust particle, shedding tears seems to have a multitude of benefits.
Recent research has investigated the interpersonal function of crying. We know that crying is an indication of physical and emotional stress or pain. However, this trait is quite possibly more than just an effect; it may actually benefit intimate relationships.
By exploring the different kinds of tears shed – tears of joy, sadness, and grief – along with the sincerity of these tears and their use in emotional and social circumstances, evolutionary biologist Dr. Hasson has suggested that “tears are used to elicit mercy from an antagonistic enemy.” Furthermore, he suggests that tears “are also useful in eliciting the sympathy — and perhaps more importantly the strategic assistance — of people who were not part of the enemy group.”
Dr. Hasson’s research proposes that by nature of crying, tears blur vision and indicate one’s vulnerability. Evolutionarily speaking, this may be an effective method of emotionally drawing out compassion in an enemy and drawing in support from those around you.
In Dr. Brizendine’s book “The Female Brain,” the author also discusses the plausible evolutionary purpose for crying in relationships. She informs us that men may need to see the explicit depiction of sadness in order to understand that it exists at all. To support this, Brizendine shows that a man’s response to a woman’s tears is frequently that of utter surprise. Women, on the other hand, are more intuitive, and therefore more likely to understand when someone is sad regardless of tears. This may explain why men are less likely to cry in general. So ladies, it could mean that turning on the waterworks is a good way for men to understand your feelings.
Brizendine, L. (2006). The Female Brain. New York: Broadway Books.
Hasson, O. (2009). Emotional Tears as Biological Signals. Evolutionary Psychology, 7(3), 363-370. http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/ep07363370.pdf
Parachin, Victor (1992). Fears about tears? Why crying is good for you. Vibrant Life. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0826/is_n6_v8/ai_12930434/
Tel Aviv University (2009, September 7). Why Cry? Evolutionary Biologists Show Crying Can Strengthen Relationships. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090824141045.htm