Why Do We Cry? The Science Of Crying

Crying is one of the most unique and perplexing of all human behaviors and part of of our human emotional package.  A recent study found women cry 30-64 times a year, whereas men cry 6-17 times per year, according to Dr. Vingerhoets, a clinical psychologist at Tilburg University.  Clearly crying is a prominent and important human behavior. But why do we cry? And what role do tears play in our overall eye health?

The ”why” of crying may seem obvious and straightforward: You’re happy or sad. But that’s too simplistic.

”Crying is a natural emotional response to certain feelings, usually sadness and hurt. But then people [also] cry under other circumstances and occasions,” says Stephen Sideroff, PhD, a staff psychologist at Santa Monica–University of California Los Angeles & Orthopedic Hospital and clinical director of the Moonview Treatment Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

Crying is unique to humans.  New research is beginning to answer these questions to help us better understand what human tears mean from social, psychological, and neuroscientific perspectives. Tears are complex, and we shed three different kinds.

  • Basal tears that coat your eyes on a day-to-day basis to keep them moisturized.  They protect our eyes by keeping dirt and debris away, and are made up of three layers.
  • Irritant/Reflex tears that form in response to pain or to flush foreign objects out of the eye. Their composition is similar to basal tears, but they contain more healing properties.
  • Emotional tears that appear in response to feelings of sadness, stress, joy and extreme emotion. These tears carry more protein-based hormones than basal or irritant tears and help to cleanse your body of the chemical side effects of pent-up emotion.

As stated before, tears also play an important role in keeping our eyes healthy. Without the appropriate levels of lubrication, our eyes cannot function properly and it could lead to Dry Eye Syndrome, which is a lack of tear production needed to properly lubricate the eye. The natural, basal tears you produce provide both a protective barrier and the adequate moisture needed to maintain comfort and clear vision. Simply put, when you don’t have enough tears to keep your eyes moist, they become dry, and you will experience discomfort and the following Dry Eye symptoms:

  • general eye irritation
  • stinging or burning
  • scratchiness/itchiness
  • fluctuating vision changes
  • tearing up when trying to focus heavily – such as reading, driving, or playing sports
  • difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • foreign body feeling
  • tired eyes, such as after prolonged computer use

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