Odjel za psihologiju

Emotional Crying: Signalling Function and Effects on Mood

Asmir Gračanin
Department of Psychology
University of Rijeka, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Emotional crying can be defined as shedding tears from the eye during intensive emotional reactions. Despite the increased scientific interest in crying during the last two decades, we still know little about the emergence and functions of this interesting behavior. Research on the psychological aspects of situations in which crying occurs has allowed us to gain insights into possible evolved functions and consequences of crying. Existing theories and research on crying can be structured around two types of its consequences – intra-individual, pertaining to the effects of crying on the crying individual, and inter-individual – the effects on the observers. In this contribution, I will present basic information about both types of consequences of crying. I will briefly discuss earlier studies on crying that mostly focused on its intra-individual consequences, primarily on mood improvement. Next, I will focus on more recent research on inter-individual consequences of crying. I will briefly present the methodology and findings from a line of experimental and quasi-experimental studies conducted by our team. These studies explored the effects of crying on physiological reactions and the mood of crying individuals, the types of situations in which crying occurs, the effects of perceiving tears on approach-avoidance reactions, the interaction of tears and muscular facial expressions, and the effects of exposure to tears on aggression, sexual interest, and dominance/submission relations. Study results and detailed theoretical analysis allow for conclusions that tearing up represents emotional expression or signal that (a) most likely acts via the visual channel, (b) has evolved during recent human evolution as a means to transmit information, primarily related to attachment processes, seeking help, and showing friendly intentions, (c) most often results in positive reactions from observers, and (d) whose positive consequences for the crying individual can be best understood in the context of its signalling function.

Keywords: Emotional crying, Tears, Communication, Mood, Evolved functions