Crying is shedding tears
Tears are secretions that clean and lubricate the eyes. Lacrimation or lachrymation is the production or shedding of tears....

 as a response to an emotional state
Emotion is a complex psychophysiological experience of an individual's state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves "physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience." Emotion is associated with mood,...

 in human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s. The act of crying has been defined as "a complex secretomotor
Secretomotor refers to the capacity of a structure to induce a gland to secrete a substance .Secretomotor nerve endings are frequently contrasted with sensory neuron endings and motor nerve endings. An example of secretomotor activity can be seen with the lacrimal gland, which secretes the aqueous...

 phenomenon characterized by the shedding of tears from the lacrimal apparatus
Lacrimal apparatus
The lacrimal apparatus is the physiologic system containing the orbital structures for tear production and drainage.It consists of:* the lacrimal gland, which secretes the tears, and its excretory ducts, which convey the fluid to the surface of the eye;...

, without any irritation of the ocular
Human eye
The human eye is an organ which reacts to light for several purposes. As a conscious sense organ, the eye allows vision. Rod and cone cells in the retina allow conscious light perception and vision including color differentiation and the perception of depth...

 structures". The medical term for this is to lacrimate, which also refers to non-emotional shedding of tears.

A neuronal connection
Biological neural network
In neuroscience, a biological neural network describes a population of physically interconnected neurons or a group of disparate neurons whose inputs or signalling targets define a recognizable circuit. Communication between neurons often involves an electrochemical process...

 between the lacrimal gland
Lacrimal gland
The lacrimal glands are paired almond-shaped glands, one for each eye, that secrete the aqueous layer of the tear film. They are situated in the upper, outer portion of each orbit, in the lacrimal fossa of the orbit formed by the frontal bone. Inflammation of the lacrimal glands is called...

 (tear duct) and the areas of the human brain
Human brain
The human brain has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but is over three times larger than the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size. Estimates for the number of neurons in the human brain range from 80 to 120 billion...

 involved with emotion has been established. Some scientists believe that only humans produce tears in response to emotional states while others disagree. Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 wrote in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is a book by Charles Darwin, published in 1872, concerning genetically determined aspects of behaviour. It was published thirteen years after On The Origin of Species and is, along with his 1871 book The Descent of Man, Darwin's main consideration...

that the keepers of Indian elephants in the London Zoo
London Zoo
London Zoo is the world's oldest scientific zoo. It was opened in London on 27 April 1828, and was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study. It was eventually opened to the public in 1847...

 told him that their charges shed tears in sorrow.

In many cultures, it is more socially acceptable for women and children to cry, and less socially acceptable for men to cry.

Tears produced during emotional crying have a chemical composition which differs from other types of tears. They contain significantly greater quantities of the hormones prolactin
Prolactin also known as luteotropic hormone is a protein that in humans is encoded by the PRL gene.Prolactin is a peptide hormone discovered by Henry Friesen...

, adrenocorticotropic hormone
Adrenocorticotropic hormone
Adrenocorticotropic hormone , also known as 'corticotropin', 'Adrenocorticotrophic hormone', is a polypeptide tropic hormone produced and secreted by the anterior pituitary gland. It is an important component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and is often produced in response to biological...

, Leu-enkephalin
Leu-enkephalin is an endogenous opioid peptide neurotransmitter with the amino acid sequence Tyr-Gly-Gly-Phe-Leu that is found naturally in the brains of many animals, including humans. It is one of the two forms of enkephalin; the other is met-enkephalin. The tyrosine residue at position 1 is...

 and the elements potassium
Potassium is the chemical element with the symbol K and atomic number 19. Elemental potassium is a soft silvery-white alkali metal that oxidizes rapidly in air and is very reactive with water, generating sufficient heat to ignite the hydrogen emitted in the reaction.Potassium and sodium are...

 and manganese
Manganese is a chemical element, designated by the symbol Mn. It has the atomic number 25. It is found as a free element in nature , and in many minerals...



The question of the function or origin of emotional tears remains open. Theories range from the simple, such as response to inflicted pain
Pain is an unpleasant sensation often caused by intense or damaging stimuli such as stubbing a toe, burning a finger, putting iodine on a cut, and bumping the "funny bone."...

, to the more complex, including nonverbal communication
Nonverbal communication
Nonverbal communication is usually understood as the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless messages. Messages can be communicated through gestures and touch , by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact...

 in order to elicit "helping" behavior from others. Some have also claimed that crying can serve several biochemical purposes, such as relieving stress and releasing toxins from the body. However, this view has recently come into question by psychologists who feel that the only reason people believe they think more clearly with a "good cry" is due to social influence
Social influence
Social influence occurs when an individual's thoughts, feelings or actions are affected by other people. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing...

. Also, individuals tend to remember the positive aspects of crying, and may create a link between other simultaneous positive events, such as resolving feelings of grief
Grief is a multi-faceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions...

. Together these features of memory
In psychology, memory is an organism's ability to store, retain, and recall information and experiences. Traditional studies of memory began in the fields of philosophy, including techniques of artificially enhancing memory....

 reinforce the idea that crying helped the individual.

In Hippocratic and medieval medicine, tears were associated with the bodily humors
Humorism, or humoralism, is a now discredited theory of the makeup and workings of the human body, adopted by Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers, positing that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person directly influences their temperament and health...

, and crying was seen as purgation of excess humors from the brain. William James
William James
William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism...

 thought of emotions as reflexes prior to rational thought, believing that the physiological response, as if to stress or irritation, is a precondition to cognitively becoming aware of emotions such as fear or anger.

William H. Frey II, a biochemist at the University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. It is the oldest and largest part of the University of Minnesota system and has the fourth-largest main campus student body in the United States, with 52,557...

, proposed that people feel "better" after crying, due to the elimination of hormones associated with stress
Stress hormone
Stress hormones such as cortisol, GH and norepinephrine are released at periods of high stress. The hormone regulating system is known as the endocrine system...

, specifically adrenocorticotropic hormone
Adrenocorticotropic hormone
Adrenocorticotropic hormone , also known as 'corticotropin', 'Adrenocorticotrophic hormone', is a polypeptide tropic hormone produced and secreted by the anterior pituitary gland. It is an important component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and is often produced in response to biological...

. Crying has since then been linked to a burst of intense emotional sensations, such as extreme pain or joy. This, paired with increased mucosal secretion during crying, could lead to a theory that crying is a mechanism developed in humans to dispose of this stress hormone when levels grow too high.

Recent psychological theories of crying emphasize the relationship of crying to the experience of perceived helplessness. From this perspective, an underlying experience of helplessness can usually explain why people cry. For example, a person may cry after receiving surprisingly happy news, ostensibly because the person feels powerless or unable to influence what is happening.

Emotional tears have also been put into an evolutionary context. One study proposes that crying, by blurring vision, can handicap aggressive or defensive actions, and may function as a reliable signal of appeasement, need, or attachment. Dr. Oren Hasson, an evolutionary psychologist in the zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

 department at Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University is a public university located in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel. With nearly 30,000 students, TAU is Israel's largest university.-History:...

 explains that crying shows vulnerability and submission to an attacker, solicits bystanders for sympathy and aid and signals shared emotional attachments.

Another theory that follows evolutionary psychology is given by Paul D. MacLean, who suggests that the vocal part of crying was used first as a "separation cry" to help reunite parents and offspring. The tears, he speculates, are a result of a link between the development of the cerebrum and the discovery of fire. MacLean figures that since early humans must have relied heavily on fire, their eyes were frequently producing reflexive tears in response to the smoke. As humans evolved and began to say "Rest in Peace" to their dead, the smoke possibly gained a strong association with the loss of life and, therefore, sorrow.

Biological response

It can be very difficult to observe biological effects of crying, especially considering many psychologists believe the environment in which a person cries can alter the experience of the crier. However, crying studies in laboratories have shown several physical effects of crying, such as increased heart rate, sweating, and slowed breathing. Although it appears that the type of effects an individual experiences depends largely on the individual, for many it seems that the calming effects of crying, such as slowed breathing, outlast the negative effects, which could explain why people remember crying as being helpful and beneficial.

A common side effect of crying is feeling a lump in the throat of the crier, otherwise known as a globus sensation. Although many things can cause a globus sensation, the one experienced in crying is a response to the stress experienced by the sympathetic nervous system
Sympathetic nervous system
The sympathetic nervous system is one of the three parts of the autonomic nervous system, along with the enteric and parasympathetic systems. Its general action is to mobilize the body's nervous system fight-or-flight response...

. When an animal is threatened by some form of danger, the sympathetic nervous system triggers several processes to allow the animal to fight or flee
Fight-or-flight response
The fight-or-flight response was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon....

. This includes shutting down unnecessary body functions, such as digestion, and increasing blood flow and oxygen to necessary muscles. When an individual experiences emotions such as sorrow, the sympathetic nervous system still responds in this way. Another function increased by the sympathetic nervous system is breathing, which includes opening the throat in order to increase air flow. This is done by expanding the glottis
The glottis is defined as the combination of the vocal folds and the space in between the folds .-Function:...

, which allows more air to pass through. As an individual is undergoing this sympathetic response, eventually the parasympathetic nervous system
Parasympathetic nervous system
The parasympathetic nervous system is one of the two main divisions of the autonomic nervous system . The ANS is responsible for regulation of internal organs and glands, which occurs unconsciously...

 attempts to undo the response by decreasing high stress activities and increasing recuperative processes, which includes running digestion. This involves swallowing, a processes which requires closing the fully expanded glottis to prevent food from entering the larynx
The larynx , commonly called the voice box, is an organ in the neck of amphibians, reptiles and mammals involved in breathing, sound production, and protecting the trachea against food aspiration. It manipulates pitch and volume...

. The glottis, however, attempts to remain open as an individual cries. This fight to close the glottis creates a sensation that feels like a lump in the individuals throat.

Frequency of crying

According to a study of over 300 adults, on average
In mathematics, an average, or central tendency of a data set is a measure of the "middle" value of the data set. Average is one form of central tendency. Not all central tendencies should be considered definitions of average....

 men cry once every month
A month is a unit of time, used with calendars, which was first used and invented in Mesopotamia, as a natural period related to the motion of the Moon; month and Moon are cognates. The traditional concept arose with the cycle of moon phases; such months are synodic months and last approximately...

; women cry at least five times per month, especially before and during the menstrual cycle
Menstrual cycle
The menstrual cycle is the scientific term for the physiological changes that can occur in fertile women for the purpose of sexual reproduction. This article focuses on the human menstrual cycle....

 when crying can increase up to five times the normal rate, often without obvious reasons (such as depression
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

 or sadness
Sadness is emotional pain associated with, or characterized by feelings of disadvantage, loss, despair, helplessness, sorrow, and rage. When sad, people often become outspoken, less energetic, and emotional...


According to the German Society of Ophthalmology, which has collated different scientific studies on crying, women cry on average between 30 and 64 times a year, and men cry on average between 6 and 17 times per year.

Men tend to cry for between two and four minutes, and women cry for about six minutes. Crying turns into sobbing for women in 65% of cases, compared to just 6% for men. Until adolescence however, no difference between the sexes was found.

Types of crying in infants

Although crying is an infant's mode of communication, it is not limited to a monotonous sound. There are three different types of cries apparent in infants. The first of these three is a basic cry, which is a systematic cry with a pattern of crying and silence. The basic cry starts with a cry coupled with a briefer silence, which is followed by a short high-pitched inspiratory whistle. Then, there is a brief silence followed by another cry. Hunger is a main stimulant of the basic cry. An anger cry is much like the basic cry; however, in this cry, more excess air is forced through the vocal cords, making it a louder, more abrupt cry. This type of cries is characterized by the same temporal sequence as the basic pattern but distinguished by differences in the length of the various phase components. The third cry is the pain cry, which, unlike the other two, has no preliminary moaning. The pain cry is one loud cry, followed by a period of breath holding. Most adults can determine whether an infant's cries signify anger or pain. Most parents also have a better ability to distinguish their own infant's cries than those of a different child. A 2009 study found that babies mimic their parents' pitch contour. French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 infants wail on a rising note while the Germans
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 favor a falling melody.

Categorizing dimensions

There have been many attempts to differentiate between the two distinct types of crying (one negative and one positive). Different perspectives have been broken down into three dimensions to examine the emotions being felt and also to grasp the contrast between the two types.

Spatial perspective explains sad crying as reaching out to be "there," such as at home or with a person who may have just passed away. In contrast, joyful crying is acknowledging being "here." It emphasized the intense awareness of one's location, such as at a relative's wedding.

Temporal perspective explains crying slightly differently. In temporal perspective, sorrowful crying is due to looking to the past with regret or to the future with dread. This illustrated crying as a result of losing someone and regretting not spending more time with them or being nervous about an upcoming event. Crying as a result of happiness would then be a response to a moment as if it is eternal; the person is frozen in a blissful, immortalized present.

The last dimension is known as the public-private perspective. This describes the two types of cryings as ways to imply details about the self as known privately or one's public identity. For example, crying due to a loss is a message to the outside world that pleads for help with coping with internal sufferings. Or, as Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal...

 suggested, sorrowful crying is a method of self-pity or self-regard, a way one comforts oneself. Joyful crying, in contrast, is in recognition of beauty, glory, or wonderfulness.

Lacrimal system

There are three types of tears
Tears are secretions that clean and lubricate the eyes. Lacrimation or lachrymation is the production or shedding of tears....

: basal tears, reflexive tears, and psych tears. Basal tears are produced at a rate of about 1 to 2 microliters a minute, and are made in order to keep your eye lubricated and smooth out irregularities in the cornea
The cornea is the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber. Together with the lens, the cornea refracts light, with the cornea accounting for approximately two-thirds of the eye's total optical power. In humans, the refractive power of the cornea is...

. Reflexive tears are tears that are made in response to irritants to your eye, such as when chopping onions or getting poked in the eye. Psych tears are produced by the lacriminal system and are the tears expelled during emotional states.

The lacrimal system is made up of a secretory system, which produces tears, and an excretory system, which drains the tears. The lacrimal gland is primarily responsible for producing emotional or reflexive tears. As tears are produced, some fluid evaporates between blinks, and some is drained through the lacrimal punctum
Lacrimal punctum
The lacrimal canaliculi, one in each eyelid, commence at minute orifices, termed puncta lacrimalia , on the summits of the papillae lacrimales, seen on the margins of the lids at the lateral extremity of the lacus lacrimalis...

. The tears that are drained through the punctum will eventually be drained through the nose. Any excess fluid that did not go into the punctum will fall over the eye lid, which produces tears that are cried.

Disorders related to crying

  • Bell's palsy
    Bell's palsy
    Bell's palsy is a form of facial paralysis resulting from a dysfunction of the cranial nerve VII that results in the inability to control facial muscles on the affected side. Several conditions can cause facial paralysis, e.g., brain tumor, stroke, and Lyme disease. However, if no specific cause...

    , where faulty regeneration of the facial nerve can cause sufferers to shed tears while eating.
  • Cri du chat
    Cri du chat
    Cri du chat syndrome, also known as chromosome 5p deletion syndrome, 5p minus syndrome or Lejeune’s syndrome, is a rare genetic disorder due to a missing part of chromosome 5. Its name is a French term referring to the characteristic cat-like cry of affected children. It was first described by...

    , where the characteristic cry of affected infants, which is similar to that of a meowing kitten, is due to problems with the larynx and nervous system.
  • Familial dysautonomia
    Familial dysautonomia
    Familial dysautonomia is a disorder of the autonomic nervous system which affects the development and survival of sensory, sympathetic and some parasympathetic neurons in the autonomic and sensory nervous system resulting in variable symptoms including: insensitivity to pain, inability to produce...

    , where there can be a lack of overflow tears (alacrima) during emotional crying.
  • Pathological laughing and crying, where the patients experience relatively uncontrollable episodes of laughing or crying, or both.

External links

examines the taboo
A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

that still surrounds public crying.
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