Solving the Scientific Mystery of Why Humans Cry

By Emily Murray

As humans, most of our innate actions can be linked to an evolutionary purpose for survival. Women are inherently more nurturing than men, while men typically have a stronger desire to protect and provide. While some may see these as outdated gender roles, most scientists agree that, to an extent, we are born with these specific traits no matter if the woman is the provider and the man is the nurturer in the family. Biologically we are predisposed to certain emotions and actions.

You probably know someone who can immediately tear up at the slightest sappy commercial, a beautiful sunset or a love story. Maybe it’s you, your partner or a close friend. On the other hand, you probably also know someone that can’t seem to muster up a tear even when it’s appropriate. So why do we cry at all? It’s not important for our survival, right?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, we are unknowingly sending chemical signals that others are able to subconsciously pick up and act upon.

A study published in Science called “Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal,” reveals that in women, tears are actually sending out a chemical message to male counterparts saying, “I’m not in the mood to be intimate.”

According to the article, this may also help us to understand why women (and their partners) must deal with the heightened level of emotions around and during the time of menstruation every month. Biologically, this is a period when pregnancy is least likely, therefore perhaps crying more frequently during this time is a way of signaling to a man that she isn’t likely to get pregnant during this time.

In order to find subjects for the study, an advertisement for people who could cry easily was sent out. Subsequently, those who responded were mainly women, though it is said that one male “crier” has now volunteered.

The study organizer collected tears in a vile from the original female-only-criers. These tears were than tested to see their chemical impact on men. When a small pad was dampened with the tears and placed under a man’s nose, the effect was similar to “taking a cold shower.” This was, in fact, contrary to what researchers believed they would discover. They believed that perhaps a woman’s tears would result in empathy or sadness in a man, instead…let’s just say it had the opposite effect of Viagra.

As a control in the experiment, saline was dripped down the woman’s face instead of natural tears and was then collected and tested on men in the same way as the real tears had been. The men were not aware of which sample was which. In both cases, men looked at photos of the women and actually rated them “less sexually attractive,” when they were exposed to the real tears instead of the saline.

Once more men are able to volunteer their tears, we will be able to see the impact they have on the opposite sex as well as the impact they have in other men. It is speculated that the findings may show that other men respond with lowered anger levels from the chemical signals in another man’s tears.

Another study of the effect of a child’s tears is also scheduled to take place.