Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Crying
Why do we cry? When is it good to cry?
- 1 Overview
- 2 Definition of crying
- 3 Why do we cry?
- 4 When is it good to cry?
- 5 Critique of current theories and research: limitations of the measurement
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
|“||"Life is an onion - you peel it year by year and sometimes cry."
(Carl Sandburg, Remembrance Rock)
The first thing we do after being born is to cry, and the last thing we do when people die is to cry. Crying is a normal part of growing up as well. Crying makes us stronger and more mature through our life span. Thus, crying seems important for us. However, how many of you understand crying correctly? Do you really understand why we cry? It seems that many people do not know exactly what crying is about despite its importance. If we understand about the purpose of crying and its benefits, crying can be more helpful for you in terms of your physical and psychological health. This chapter will mainly focus on the reasons of crying and how beneficial crying is for us through psychological theories.
Definition of crying
Charles Darwin (1872) suggested that crying is a natural human behaviour that is distinct from animal crying. Botelho (1964) said that crying is a typical way for human to express their emotion. Crying is defined as shedding of tears. "Sobbing, weeping, wailing, whimpering, bawling, or blubbering" are all different expressions of crying. In physiological terms, Patel (1993) defined crying is "a complex secretomotor phenomenon characterized by the shedding of tears from the lacrimal apparatus, without any irritation of the ocular structures".
Why do we cry?
After scientists discovered that tears are generated by our lacrimal glands, they found that there are three types of tears (see Table 1; Keedle, 2010). There are a number of reasons why we cry: (1) Physiological reasons, (2) Evolutionary reasons, (3) Psychological or emotional reasons, and (4) Cultural and social reasons. In this part, we will explore the multidimensional reasons of crying.
Reductionist theories Reductionists take a physiological approach to explain crying. When you cry, tears roll down your face. Flicking eyes or similarly, closing eyes very tightly would stimulate the lachrymal glands and that causes to bring tears out (Darwin, 1872; Dixon, 2013). The primary reason for crying is to protect eyes. Basal tears protect the surface of the eye by lubricating the surface of the eye (Darwin, 1872). According to Montague (1959), the major reason for crying is to prevent eyes from drying. Sobbing leads us to inhale and exhale huge amount of air quickly that makes the nose and throat dry. To protect the nose and throat to be dried, tears would keep them moist. He suggested that tears also prevent eye from infections. The lacrimal fluid, which is basically the same as tears, contains the antibacterial enzyme lysozymes that protect eyes to be free from infections (Montague, 1959).
Crying plays an important role for humans to survive (Darwin, 1872). First, when we are in pain, our body alerts us by crying. When we are under stress or pain, we can experience some common reactions to stress such as sweating and having increased heart rate. Crying relieves those physical responses (APS, 2008). Second, crying can handicap aggressive or defensive actions from attackers. Emotional tears increase the expression of sadness that can handicap aggressive or defensive actions (Hasson, 2009). Finally, crying helps build relationships and a need for attachment which are key for survival (Hasson, 2009).
Emotional (Psychological) reasons
Charles Darwin suggested that animals cry emotionally, however, modern scientists argue that human beings are the only animal capable of crying emotionally. Cathartic theories, two-factor theory, and learned helplessness theory help to explain when emotional tears are released and why.
Table 2. Reasons for crying based on learned helplessness theory Based on Miceli, M & Castelfranchi, C. (2003). Crying: Discussing its basic reasons and uses. New Ideas in Psychology, 21, 247-273.
Have you ever cried because of others? You must have cried at least once in your life because of others.Frey and Langseth's 1985 study (as cited in Vingerhoets, Cornelius, Van Heck, & Becht, 2000, p. 363) found that 40% of participants in their study cried for social reasons. Similarly, Bylsma and his colleagues (2008) examined a cross-cultural study about types of antecedents reported for the most recent crying episode. Conflict was the third most important attribution for crying, with 13.3% of the total sample (4,249 respondents). Thus, the social contexts of crying seem important. Crying in a social setting can be explained differently for infants and adults. Infants cry for communicating and being attached with their caregivers. The reasons for adult crying are broader and include interpersonal skills, communication with others, bonds, and relationships.
"No Cry" challenge (80 mins., 19 videos)
When is it good to cry?
Why we cry was discussed in the previous section. This section explores when we normally cry, how often we cry, when crying is good for us, and when crying is not good for us.
When do we normally cry?
Think about last time when you cried. Did you cry in the night or during the day? You might cry in the night. How do I know it? It is because researchers suggest that people cry more often in the night time than during the day. According to Bylsma, Vingerhoets and Rottenberg (2008), most people cry in the late evening between 10 pm and midnight. Frey (1985) found that women cry more often between 7 pm and 10 pm than between 9 am and 7 pm. Furthermore, the frequency of crying (only for women) increases between 11 pm and 4 am (Vingerhoets, Sanders & Kuper, 1997). Why do we more likely to cry in the night than during the day? Researchers found that there are several factors that may cause people to cry during the night time. First, the threshold for crying may be lowered in the night. We are tired and feel safe at home in the night. As a result, it may be easier for us to cry in the night. Second, people might have more conflicts with their family members in the night than during the day. Finally, night time is good for us to reflect our emotional events that happened during the day (Vingerhoets, Cornelius, Van Heck & Becht, 2000).
How often do we cry? (Frequency of crying)
When is it good to cry?
When is it not good to cry?
Deep Feeling Therapy: Healing Emotional Pain with Dr. Paul Hannig (6.5 mins.)
Critique of current theories and research: limitations of the measurement
Crying is a fascinating topic to study out of all emotions. Crying studies have been conducted by researchers from different backgrounds such as physiology, biology, sociology and psychology. The current theories and research have been helpful for us to improve our knowledge about crying, as well as, improve our mental health. However, a major challenge for crying research is measurement. Most of crying studies are dependent on self-report measurement. However, self-report measurement may not be valid sometimes. Participants may lie because they may be too embarrassed to provide their private details such as when they cried last time and why. To decrease these problems, researchers started to use the quasi-experiment design. However, quasi-experimental studies also have limitations. Cornelius (1997) suggested that crying behaviour cannot be measured accurately in experimental conditions or randomised experiments. In a controlled experiment, participants may be forced to cry. Crying is a natural human behaviour that is sometimes voluntary and involuntary. According to Stougie, Vingerhoets and Cornelius (2004), participants cannot be forced to cry because of the experiment condition. Future studies need to carefully use the measurement between self-report or quasi-experiment for the better research result.
Crying is important in our life. The purpose of human crying is shaped by a variety of reasons. Physiologically, tears protect our eyes. Biologically, crying helps us to survive. Psychologically, we cry in order to express our emotions. Socially, crying is helpful for us to communicate and build relationships with others. Crying has benefits and disadvantages depending on the situation. Crying is good when you need better moods. A body can maintain homeostasis by crying. Crying is also helpful for seeking social supports and understanding one's emotional status. On the other hand, crying is not good when you watch sad movies, because it increases the level of arousal.Crying brings you more suffering when you feel hopeless. Finally, crying in public decreases your self-esteem. A major problem with crying research is measurement. Future studies need to be careful about using self-report measurements or the quasi-experiment for better research results.
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A poem about giving yourself and others permission to cry (from Jenny Littlejohn of Striding-Ahead.co.uk)
Please Do Cry
"How often, when someone cries
Do you hear them, so meekly, apologise?
As if somehow they’ve done something wrong
Instead, they’re just singing their healing song
How often when public tears do threat
your burning, shaming cheeks to wet
Do you try to blink away the pain
Treat it like some embarrassing stain
It seems to me, as we grow to adulthood
We are taught, crying in public is just not good
And when tears approach we shove them aside
Like a part of us, we just can’t abide
When you graze your skin and blood appears
You know it’s just your body shedding healing tears
It’s only natural that blood may flow
Allowing healing new skin to grow
Just why is it, that when our heart is bleeding,
when it’s just love that’s most needing
Do those that want to comfort us, sigh
There, there now, please don’t cry?
So, when next you have a wound to heal
Allow yourself to feel exactly what you feel
Embrace those tears like a precious prize
They are truly a blessing, totally undisguised
And when you see the tears of another,
turned inwards, their hurt they are trying to smother
Don’t turn away and walk on by
Ask them instead, please do cry"
~ Jenny Littlejohn