While laughter has long and often been hailed as the best medicine, crying, the other uniquely human attribute has been given short shrift by society. Humans are the only animals who shed tears of emotion. Why do we cry? Are there any physical or health benefits from crying? Plenty, if some researchers are to be believed. Throughout history and in every culture people have cried. Weeping often occurs at precisely those times when we are least able to fully verbalise complex, overwhelming emotions. Scientists feel that weeping is probably necessary because no human behaviour has ever continuously evolved unless it somehow contributed to survival. There are three basic types of tears.
- In healthy eyes, the cornea is continually kept wet and nourished by basal tears.
- The second type of tears is reflex tears that attempt to wash out irritants that may have gotten into the eye.
- The third category, emotional tears, is increased lacrimation due to strong emotional stress or pain. Tears brought about by emotions have a different chemical make-up than those for lubrication.
According to a study by University of Minnesota biochemist William Frey, people report feeling better after a cry. Frey discovered the neurotransmitters leucine-enkephalin (an endorphin or natural opiate-like substance for pain relief) and prolactin (released from the pituitary in response to emotional stress) in emotional tears: The substances were not found in tears shed in response to sliced onions. Studies back the common observation that men and women cry differently. Men cry quietly and their eyes brim with tears. Women, on the other hand, make lots of crying noises as the tears stream down their cheeks. Testing revealed that men weep an average of 1.4 times a month while women cry about 5.3 times monthly. "Until the Industrial Revolution, crying in public was pretty normal, even for men", says Tom Lutz, PhD, "Heroic epics from Greek times through the Middle Ages are soggy with weeping of all sorts. Through most of history, tearless-ness has not been the standard of manliness". The industrial age needed diligent, not emotional, workers. Crying was then delegated to privacy, behind closed doors. People everywhere became more uncomfortable with public tears. Perhaps, it's time to reclaim our tears. A crying club, anyone? The Times of India October 6, 2005