Friday, June 7, 2013

Fun Friday Facts #76: Why Do We Cry?

A Mother Life

In the very last post I complained about people shoving their writing ideas at me, so this makes me a hypocrite, but I chose this topic because one of my Facebook friends suggested it. Now, normally I don’t take Fun Friday Facts suggestions from people because they come up with topics that aren’t broad enough, but I guess this just goes to show that sometimes I do get good suggestions.

So, for the one person who asked, here is your information about crying.

You're welcome.

While most animals produce lacrimal fluid that keeps the eye moist, humans are the only animals that shed tears out of emotion or pain. No one is sure why humans cry in response to strong emotions, although science has discovered that emotional tears have a different chemical makeup from other types of lacrimal fluid. Emotional tears contain higher levels of hormones like Leu-enkephalin (everybody knows what that is), prolactin (that old thing), and adrenocorticotropic hormone (pfft, that again), as well as manganese and potassium.

We've been crying bananas all along.
Image credit: Steve Hopson

The hormonal makeup of emotional tears has led some scientists, like William H. Frey II, to believe that we cry in order to release excess stress hormones during times of high emotion, whether joyful or sad. Some feel that the release of stress hormones could be why people always seem to feel better after a good cry. Others, however, believe that the feelings of relief we have after crying occur due to social conditioning – we expect to feel better after crying, so we do. It would also appear that not everyone feels better after crying – in one Dutch study, people who suffered from depression or anxiety reported feeling worse after a cry.

Crying might also have served an evolutionary purpose in early humans. Sobbing may have evolved as a cry for help or a means to help parents find their children if they were separated. Evolutionary biologist Oren Hasson believes that tears evolved as a way to show weakness and vulnerability, which could have served many of the same purposes for early humans as they do for humans today. Early humans could have used tears to signal submission or ask for mercy when attacked, display a need for help, appeal to others’ sympathy, or even display affection. In all of these scenarios, tears could potentially strengthen social bonds. Further research shows that, in cultures across the world, crying serves to strengthen emotional relationships.

Few people will be surprised to find that, according to research, women cry far more often and for longer periods of time than men. The average woman cries between 30 and 64 times a year, for an average of six minutes per cry. Men cry just six to 17 times a year, for an average of two to four minutes per cry.

Women’s weeping progresses into full-on sobbing in 65 percent of cases, but just six percent of men’s weeping episodes progress that far. Women and men also cry for different reasons. Women report crying when they have problems they can’t solve, when they think about upsetting events from the past, or when they feel inadequate, which is pretty much constantly for some of us. Men, on the other hand, report crying in sympathy with others or when they’re mourning the loss of a relationship.

Under all that chest hair and bravado lies a sensitive, tender heart.
Image credit: Philip Kromer