The Beauty of Tears

March 6, 2016

Science says that every tear has a different viscosity and composition. All tears contain a variety of biological substances including oils, antibodies and enzymes suspended in salt water. But how does this relate to the “real world” and how do tears have such far-reaching effects?

Since crying is the primary means of communication for very young

infants and continues to be an important part of the emotional repertoire of adults, it has received a good deal of attention from researchers who wish to exploit the most natural instinct in an attempt to diagnose and medicate.

“There is demonstrable evidence that clinicians often develop diagnostic tools which lead to early and unnecessary medical intervention, especially relating to the psychiatric allopathic model,” said pediatric specialist Dr. Marta Gonzales.

Could crying have another purpose? These days, most researchers believe its function is not physiological, but social. “If you cry, you send a signal that you need help,” says psychologist Asmir Gracanin at the University of Rijeka, Croatia.

What we do know is that emotional crying is downright weird. Many animals produce tears to protect their eyes, but humans alone cry out of feeling. And we cry not only when we’re sad, but also when we’re happy, overwhelmed, enraptured and in pain. Why do we do it? What are the benefits of blubbing? More pointedly, when should you keep a stiff upper lip, and when might it help to turn on the waterworks?

At first glance, liquid dripping from the eyesis a strange signal of helplessness, but neuroscientist Robert Provine at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, thinks he knows how it evolved. Many animals clean their eyes and reduce irritation by secreting tears from the lacrimal glands, above the outer corner of each eye (see diagram, below). Provine believes that as humans evolved, tears acquired a second role. “If someone has injured their eye or is suffering from disease, others might comfort or assist them,” he says. “And after that, the presence of tears emerged as a cue for caregiving.” In other words, once crying started to elicit help from others, it became worth our while to shed tears over any hurt, physical or mental.

Still, why did the eyes become the channel for signalling distress, and not sweaty palms or pale lips? The eyes are perhaps the best clue we have to what others are thinking, Gracanin points out, so we are predisposed to look at them. You can also generally count on eyes to be visible. “They are a quite nice place to put a signal, as opposed to some other body part,” he says.

“Tears are just one of many miracles that work well so we get it out every day,” said Dr.Gerald R. Bergman, a professor at the Medical University of Ohio and an instructor in the Division of Arts & Sciences Northwest State Community College in Archbold, Ohio.

Apart from emotion and reason that underlie , crying often makes people feel better. Research indicates that 88.8% of people feel better after crying, and only 8.4% felt worse.

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