Crying is Telling

Crying is Telling

Crying

Why do people cry? This post is not about the emotional reasons in our lives that initiate crying, such as having a serial killer stalking you in your home, or crying over the joy of winning $10 from an Elvis slot machine at a casino. From a human species evolutionary perspective, why do we cry?

 

Do Animals Also Cry?

The predominance of scientific studies suggests that emotional crying is exclusive to humans, although many anecdotal examples exist about animals also crying. Notable cases have been reported involving rhesus monkeys and elephants shedding tears over the loss of mates. I do not intend to debate exclusivity of tears concerning emotional behaviors to humans. Clearly, the subject of people crying about emotional events is as complex as the spoken language relates to animal calls and sounds for communication.

 

So Here’s Why We Cry

Charles Darwin felt crying served no adaptive function in evolution, considering it only incidental in humans. Darwin was probably wrong. Many scientists now believe that crying may have given early humans an adaptive advantage. Some studies suggest crying have physical benefits such as:

  • Flushing the body of chemicals produced by negative emotions.
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Lowering blood pressure at times of stress

While there may be some physical benefits related to crying, the more likely advantages relate to social communication regarding emotional status. Crying provides the following:

  • Visual indications that someone is in pain or danger and needs help without alerting predators by sound.
  • Signaling helplessness, especially during childhood when humans are most vulnerable.
  • Showing submissiveness to a potential attacker, eliciting mercy and sympathy.
  • Possible strengthening of interpersonal relationships through an action that is more intimate.
  • Signal appeasement and need for attachment in times of grief or loss.
  • Promotes greater mutual trust and social connectedness.

Crying likely evolved in humans even before more complex language skills as it allowed instant communication of an emotional status with a single tear in the corner of an eye. Crying also transmits the emotion of empathy, like weeping for joy about beautiful music, poetry, and visual arts.

I would recommend considering the following books for anyone wanting to delve deeper into this fascinating aspect of human existence:

Dr. Ad Vingerhoets at Tilburg University : Why Only Humans Weep

Professor Michael Trimble, London: Why Humans Like to Cry

Also a publication in Science News:

Dr. Oren Hasson of Tel Aviv University: Article in Science News, Why Cry?

 

Note: Topic of this post prompted by the following passage in The Field Trip:

Her eyes begged for understanding, but his returned with impassive indifference. Her speech ended in a flood of tears and she fled from the room.

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