What does crying do for a person?

2023-04-20 08:02:00, Kuriozitete CNA
What does crying do for a person?
Illustrative photo

Crying is a universal and typical human emotional expression. When other animals cry, it happens to lubricate the eyes, due to an infection or some other external factor. Humans are the only ones who produce tears associated with emotions, apart from the basal ones, which serve to lubricate the eyes, and the reflective ones, caused by irritation or other physical factors (for example, by freezing an onion).

In addition to the crying of babies, which is useful for attracting attention and care from adults, we humans cry for very different reasons: both because of extremely negative experiences, such as the death of a family member, and that are extremely positive, such as a wedding or the birth of a child.

But we also cry for less extraordinary reasons: when we see a movie, hear a song, or object to a work of art. Just the variety of emotions it's associated with makes crying a fascinating and complex study phenomenon that cuts across disciplines, from neurobiology to evolutionary psychology to the behavioral sciences.

To date, many things have been said about the reasons why we cry and the functions of crying. In scientific research on this topic, crying is a phenomenon that, in different populations and cultures, is associated with experiences of separation, loss and helplessness, and with a feeling of being overwhelmed in relation to a strong emotion, whether negative or positive.

According to one of the most common hypotheses in human and social sciences, from anthropology to psychology, crying responds to the need to restore a psychic balance of the individual subjected to strong emotions. A group of researchers from universities and institutes in Norway, Germany, Portugal, Serbia and the Netherlands have reported preliminary data from a study on crying for positive emotions conducted on more than 13,000 adults from 40 different countries.

According to this study, tears of joy tend to appear mainly in 4 circumstances: in moments of extraordinary emotions, such as weddings or other events (55 percent of cases); for achieving an important result at school or work (29 percent); for the emotion that can be felt in front of a great natural or artistic beauty (8 percent); and during fun times (3 percent).

Also, women tend to cry more often than men. One of the co-authors of the most cited studies is Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhots, a professor in the department of medical and clinical psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He is among the most authoritative supporters of the hypothesis of the "self-soothing" effects of crying.

Based on this hypothesis, crying is understood as the result of a series of "homeostatic processes of mood regulation and stress reduction". This function of crying, according to Vingerhoets and other researchers, explains why it occurs both in moments of joy and sadness.

Because in both cases it is a reaction to extreme emotional experiences, however different, which make it necessary to restore a functional emotional balance. A strong negative emotion can be decisive in some critical or dangerous circumstances, because it stimulates the impulse to act quickly.

But maintaining this emotional state even after the end of the crisis would be neither efficient nor pleasant. If it is persistent or very frequent, emotional crying can actually be a sign of a mental health problem because it signals a constant and unregulated exposure to extreme emotions, both positive and negative, which lead to a state of alternating psychic exaltation (hypomania) and depression.

Another function associated with emotional crying has to do with social and relational effects. From this perspective, crying is considered to be the evolution of a non-verbal human expression that signals discomfort, reduces group aggression, and promotes help-and-rescue behaviors within the species.

The fact that people report feeling better after crying is well known. In a 2008 study conducted by Vingerhots, along with researchers Jonathan Rotenberg and Loren Bilzma of the University of South Florida, more than 3,000 reported cases of crying episodes were analyzed.

Interviewees described what happened around them when they cried and the effects of crying on their psychological state. Most said they felt a boost in mood after crying, but 1/3 reported no improvement. While 1/10 of the participants reported that they felt worse after crying./ Adapted from CNA.al

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