Why do we cry and what do tears mean?

Crying is something unique to human beings, which occurs when we experience a certain emotion. We are the only species that shed tears as an emotional response. How many times have cried while watching a sad movie, or when you cannot stop laughing, or when you get hurt?

Scientifically, it has not been possible to explain 100% why human beings cry on an emotional level and what is the role that tears play. However here is what we know so far:  

Babies and children, in the absence of any other means of expressing themselves, cry to express that they are hungry, cold, afraid or in need of comfort. It is the mechanism they use to get the attention of their caregivers. As we get older, we are less likely to cry to communicate our physiological needs and take a more sentimental role.

There are three different types of tears:

  • Basal tear: the function of this type of tear is to keep the eye lubricated and free of dust. When we wear contact lenses or when we spend a lot of time in front of the computer, our eyes tend to dry out and we need extra hydration.
  • Reflex tear: it is produced by some external effect that can irritate the eye, such as chopping an onion. If something irritating gets into our eye by the wind, the tear will expel it.
  • Psychic tear: It occurs in response to an emotion, be it physical or emotional pain, or extreme joy or surprise. It is of course the one that throws the most mystery, because as we have said, there is no scientific consensus on why this type of emotional tear occurs.

Tears contain adrenocorticotropic, the so-called stress hormone. Therefore, crying would be nothing more than a way to relieve the body of excessive tension and regain calm. Like urine or vomit, the function of tears is to expel harmful substances from our body.

Let's normalize crying and assume that it is something normal that we all need, even if we do not know how to explain very well why. Grab a pair of sunglasses if you don’t want everyone to notice you’ve been releasing tear shaped stress.


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