Dear Neurontic

Something I’ve always wondered about and never understood: Why do extreme emotions cause people to cry? Does this water-letting have some kind of biological function?

Moved to Tears, California

Dear Moved to Tears,

I too have always wondered about this phenomenon, but have never taken the time to find out. So, thanks for your letter. And we can both thank Wendy Norlund of Gibbs Magazine for providing the answer.

As it turns out, crying is a far more complex mechanism than you might imagine. There are actually three kinds of tears: Basal tears, which keep your eyes from drying up like a grape left out in the sun too long; Reflex tears, your body’s response to eye irritants, like onions and gasoline; and Psychic tears, the droplets produced when something provokes an emotional response. “When emotions affect us, the nervous system stimulates the cranial nerve in the brain and this sends signals to the neurotransmitters [controlling] the tear glands,” says Norlund, thus kickstarting the production of tears.

This explains ‘how’ emotions trigger tears. Now let’s turn to ‘why.’ I’m dating myself here, but after reading about psychic tears I can’t help thinking back to the movie Broadcast News. Those of you ancient enough to remember this film will recall that Holly Hunter’s character, Jane Craig, was in the habit of starting off each workday with a therapeutic bout of crying. She claimed it helped her deal with the day’s stresses. Well, it seems she was right. According to Norlund’s article “Laughter and Crying,”
Scientists have discovered that the emotional tears contain higher levels of manganese and the hormone prolactin, and this contributes [to] a reduction of both of these in the body; thus helping to keep depression away. Many people have found that crying actually calms them after being upset, and this is in part due to the chemicals and hormones that are released in the tears.
The lesson here? Free to Be You and Me’s feel good message contained a grain of scientific truth. It is all right to cry, cuz crying does, indeed, "get the sad outta you.”

Have a question for Neurontic? Email orlivan [at] gmail [dot] com.


Moved to Tears said...

Thank you Orli V for all your continued and unrelenting desire to sooth the needs of your fanbase. My thirst for the salty yet sweet eye nectars has been quenched.

4:40 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home