• Question: Why do we cry?

    Asked by anon-283697 on 27 Mar 2021.
    • Photo: David McGonigle

      David McGonigle answered on 19 Mar 2021:

      Hiya Maddie! That’s a lovely question – and while I don’t think I can say ‘why’ we cry, I can certainly try to explain a bit about tears, and the act of crying itself. First of all – the tears themselves. They’re produced by your ‘lacrimal gland’ – a bit like a big reservoir of tears just waiting to be shed! Now, while all the tears come from this gland, we actually have 3 kinds of tears – called ‘basal’, ‘reflex’, and ‘psychic’. As you’re really asking about crying, I’ll say no more about basal and reflex tears for now – but they keep your eyes wet, and react to nasty things like cutting onions, for example. Psychic tears are what we call ‘crying’: and they tend to act as a signal to other humans around us. Unlike most of the basal and reflex tears, when we’re crying and psychic tears are produced, the usual drainage route for the tears is overwhelmed (like a bath overflowing), and so…big drops down your cheeks! Some psychologists think this is a way to communicate emotions without words; others have noted that crying seems to trigger a lot of other effects in the body, like a ‘lump in the throat’. However, there’s still a big question – WHY do we cry, and WHY do we actually ‘leak’ this liquid which usually has a pretty boring job in keeping the eyes clean and germ free in response to emotion? No one knows – maybe you’ll find this out!

    • Photo: Dennis Relojo-Howell

      Dennis Relojo-Howell answered on 19 Mar 2021:

      Hi MaddieM! Many reasons โ€“ could be emotions (sadness or tears of joy), onions, eyes clearing aways irritants (dusts, specks, etc.). There’s also chemistry involved, and according to researchers emotional tears can contain higher levels of stress hormones, including leucine enkephalin (which is a natural painkiller and endorphin).

    • Photo: anon

      anon answered on 19 Mar 2021:

      Hi MaddieM,

      This is really a great question! This isnโ€™t really a consensus in science as to why people cry. From an evolutionary perspective even Darwin called it pretty useless! We as humans are not alone in crying, which I think is pretty fascinating – though this seems to be more as a consequence of pain etc. Compared to humans who do it as reaction to emotions and feelings.
      Though it also seems that what we do know about crying is it goes beyond just a reaction to negative feelings. Why do we cry from happiness? Why do we cry in love? So many interesting questions your original question raises! This has led to some to see it as a means of social bonding, so as means of furthering human connection.
      I think its also cool to note that scientists have found differences between crying tears from chopping onions and crying from emotions at the chemical level of tears.
      But I think as David pointed out, we still donโ€™t really know why we cry, maybe one day science can answer this fully!