Episode 6 – Why do we cry?

In this episode, Aleena and Janine get stuck into the research around human crying. Why do we do it? How did this bizarre behaviour even evolve? Why are humans the only animals shedding tears due to emotion? Should we hold in the tears or let them flow? Meanwhile Aleena then shares her newfound appreciation for protective eyewear for doggos and Janine explains how she is attempting to keep her new mobile phone for more than 5 years and nerds out about battery science!

Why is it only humans that shed emotional tears?

Many animals produce tears in response to any assault to the eye, such as physical or chemical exposure. These so called ‘reflex tears’ provide a protective effect. We have all experienced these reflex tears – onion crying anyone?! But crying as a result of emotional change – that has only been conclusively observed in humans. How interesting!

Crying in humans kicks off from birth and past research has shown that a big reason why infants cry is to maintain attachment with caregivers. This is really important for human babies in particular as they are particularly powerless and helpless, when compared with infants of other species. A loud vocal signal can alert caregivers any time, day or night. Interestingly, infant crying starts off as a purely vocal signal, and the tears don’t actually show up until a bit later. And then as we get older, the vocal aspect of the crying reduces significantly, yet the tears remain or increase… but why?

Let the tears out or keep them in? It depends on where you live…

Crying is an evolutionarily important behaviour and everyone will feel the need to cry at times, but culture has an important impact on crying tendency. This study takes a look at how crying tendency at the country level is linked to different characteristics of countries. It seems what’s really driving crying at the country level isn’t so much about the level of distress in counties (like economic distress), but more whether crying is enabled or is accepted according to a country’s social norms…

What brought out our inner square?

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