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Why do we cry?

Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

Did Titanic make you cry? Or was it P.S. I love you? Some people shed tears easily while others seem to have a high crying threshold and only turn on the waterworks in very agonizing situations. Tears are a natural reaction to grief or frustration, but also to joy and happiness. However, we also cry when we cut an onion or when something gets caught in our eyes. But what is it that makes us really cry?

Boy crying

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

Essentially, tears can be divided into 3 different types:

  • Basal tears: Basal tears supply the eye with liquid in order to keep it healthy and to prevent dryness while we blink our eyes.
  • Reflex tears: Reflex tears protect your eyes from irritants like smoke, wind, dust (or onions!) The eye starts watering as soon as foreign particles of bacteria or vapour get into our eyes.
  • Psychic tears: These tears are produced after emotional reactions to stress, sadness or joy and can usually be accompanied by sobbing, trembling, sweating etc.

Basal and reflex tears keep our eyes healthy and help to protect them. However, the reason we “shed psychic tears” is still not fully explicable. Everybody experiences emotions differently and reactions can very whether by bursting in to tears or without shedding even a single one. However, scientists still cannot say why we cry in reaction to certain emotions. Some assume that we communicate non-verbally through tears and let others know how we are feeling, as a cry for help. On the other hand, some psychologists say that psychic tears have a soothing effect. That’s why we say that “you’ll feel better after a little cry”.

How we react to certain situations is of importance. As mentioned above, some people may have a low threshold and start crying because they lost a train ticket, whereas others only cry when a loved one passed away. This can also depend on the current emotional or physical state a person is in. If you’re mentally or physically exhausted, you can be more likely to start crying than when you’re on top of the world.

Psychic tears, can in some way, represent who we are and how we respond to our surroundings and how we overcome certain situations. Sometimes it can be a relief to let it all out and feel better afterwards.

Do animals cry?

Owl

Photo by Lorenzo Moschi on Unsplash

Most mammals produce basal and reflex tears in a similar way to humans to protect their eyes. You might see tears falling from an animal’s eye, but are they really feeling sad?

As animals cannot be asked about their feelings, psychologists and biologists, using various behaviour experiments, have determined that some animals do experience emotions, and they may be intense enough to induce tears. Similarly, brain scans show similarities between human emotional reactions and animal emotional reactions. This is particularly true of chimpanzees.

So, maybe The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince was right… doves actually do cry. But until animals learn to talk, we just won’t know for sure if the tears they’re crying are emotional or just the result of dry eyes.