Five Reasons for Tears: Why People Cry

People shed tears on all sorts of occasions, everyone knows that.

Five Reasons for Tears: Why People Cry

People shed tears on all sorts of occasions, everyone knows that. But can the triggers also be classified into categories? A study can answer this question unequivocally and provides surprising insights.

Human tears are a most interesting phenomenon. Not only do they wet the eye or flush out foreign bodies, they also flow when strong feelings are involved. Humans are probably the only creature that cries for emotional reasons. A research team from the Universities of Ulm and Sussex has put these reasons into categories.

Based on a total of more than a thousand reports from adults, the experts were able to identify a number of thematic triggers. They published the results in the journal "Motivation and Emotion". Accordingly, human tears can be divided into five categories: loneliness, powerlessness, overwhelm, harmony and media consumption.

The classification into these categories is based on the idea that emotional tears always occur when basic psychological needs are either not met or are very intensively satisfied, the researchers explained. "Similar to basic biological needs such as sleep or food, it is assumed that the frustration or satisfaction of these psychological factors influence our subjective well-being," explains Michael Barthelmäs, who was involved in the study in Ulm.

The researchers point out, for example, that loneliness is caused by an unfulfilled need for closeness - and can thus lead to tears. They also include tears from lovesickness or homesickness in this category. According to the researchers, tears of joy, on the other hand, occur after the need for harmony has been intensively satisfied - for example at a wedding. As an example of tears due to powerlessness, they cite the reaction to a death notice.

Every fourth tear episode observed fell into the "media consumption" category, which has several distinctive features. Compared to the other categories, the crying person is only indirectly affected and the tears appear "representatively". The trigger is an experience that happens to the main character of a book or film that the person empathizes with. Also, you can shed tears in a drama, but you can also shed tears in a comedy, so there can be tears of joy and tears of sadness in that category.

The emotional tears can be clearly distinguished from the so-called basal tears, which keep the eyes moist and protect them. The researchers also left out tears as a reflex reaction to cold, wind or when cutting onions in their study.

To explore human crying, the research team conducted two online surveys asking people about the reasons for emotional tears. In another experiment, subjects were asked to keep a daily diary. It was found, for example, that younger people cried more often than older people because they were overwhelmed. The psychologists see the study as a basis for further research on the phenomenon of emotional tears. So far, there has been a lack of knowledge about the influence tears have on whether one person supports another, shared co-author Johannes Keller. The role of emotional tears in mental illness is also unclear. Identifying the five most common reasons for crying could help answer these questions in the future.

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