Crying is seldom voluntary. We cry when we can’t help ourselves. It creates an emotional release. It may even be an evolutionary advantage. Lois
From the perspective of the mirror neural network you may be right. When we see someone cry (even as we don’t know the cause), our MNN always triggers a feeling of empathy. We *know* that person has experienced a traumatic episode and is mentally suffering. We even cry watching a *good* drama in theatre or even tv. That is very sophisticated MNN processing.
But I am sure, you are right that it must be a form of emotional release, perhaps even sharing.
But sometimes we “laugh to the point of crying”. Extreme emotions of Joy or Sorrow resulting in crying.
Now is’nt that ironic?
Emotions other than sadness or loss can trigger a physiological response—tearing. So can dust in our eyes or a cold or allergies, which have nothing to do with emotion.
The chemical composition of emotional tears is said to be quite different than lubricating and allergy produced tears. It is said that the chemicals released with emotional tears may result in physiological benefit for the individual. Look it up.
I know, but I don’t usually have my lab equipment handy when I witness someone tearing up.
It may be tears in emotional situations may have evolved as a signal of one’s distress to others of our species. We are a cooperative species.
Yes, quite possible. But, if it is true that elephants also have emotional tears, are we to conclude that elephants are an equally (or substantially so) cooperative species? And, if so, why did emotional tears not evolve in other cooperative species?
Also consider that we also cry when there is no one around to notice.
Might it also be a kind of fail-safe “modulation of emotions” system, that is important for creatures who rely more on reasoning for survival than on pure emotions? (Still there is the quandary of other species who do and don’t have emotional tears, and why that is. This might be resolved by discovering that elephants have an undetected system of verbal behavior that rivals that of humans in its sophistication. But that seems like a pretty far out hypothesis.)
As usual, stuff turns out more complex and interesting when one take a closer look.
Chemicals in tears On a study conducted by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, emotional tears from women have been found to reduce sexual arousal in men. Also, emotional tears are made up of a different chemical component than those evoked by eye irritants and can relay chemical messages to others. The change in sex drive could be attributed to a drop in testosterone provoked by the tear chemicals, reducing aggression. In the animal world, it has been found that some blind mole rats rub tears all over their bodies as a strategy to keep aggressive mole rats away.
Tear composition varies from tear types. Mainly, tears are composed of water, salts, antibodies and lysozymes (antibacterial enzymes). According to a discovery by Dr. William H. Frey II, a bio-chemist from St. Paul Ramsey medical center in Minnesota, the composition of tears caused by emotion differs from that of tears as a reaction to irritations, such as onion fumes, dust or allergy. Emotional tears are composed of more protein-based hormones, such as prolactin, adrenocorticotropic, and leucine enkephalin (a natural pain killer), which is suggested to be the mechanism behind the experience of crying from emotion making an individual feel better.
That first part made me think of an activist for woman I’d heard interviewed long long ago (probably on Fresh Air) - who’s revelation came, when she was a young lady hitchhiking and she got into a car, only to discover a guy that exuded bad intent - on reflex, she broke down into tears turning to him and thanking him profusely for picking her up because she was running from some bad guy who wanted to do her harm and she was so scared, and that she really really appreciated his help. Suddenly this ominous threat turned into a protective brother-type character - and the rest of the ride etc. turn out just fine. And she got an insight into human behavior that sorta chanced the direction of her life.
Oh great, now we have to factor in blind mole rats, rubbing tears all over their bodies. Occam’s razor is going to get dulled… Unless… the explanation given for the tear bathing by blind mole rats, could cover the “why” of all species that shed emotional tears, i.e., to reduce aggression in others. That would even explain John Boehner’s prodigious teariness (as he was faced by potential aggression from every direction).