What's the purpose of emotional crying?

I understand that the tear glands work all the time, to lubricate the eyeballs.

But why do they go into overdrive when we’re upset/angry? I don’t see why your eyeballs should need more lubrication because your mother has just died, for instance. But people who are upset cry to the extent that tears flow down their faces. Does anyone know (or have a plausible theory) why? And do any non-human animals cry when emotionally stressed?

What makes you think emotional crying has a “purpose”?

I’ve heard it said that crying is a way for the body to remove toxins that result from stress. In addition, I’ve read where crying helps boost the immune system.

There’s info on the net on this subject, but I’ll let someone more knowledgeable than I provide cites, one way or the other, that would be deemed legitimate.

Why else would it be a common feature among so many types of organisms that evolved along different lines? The reason we, other mammals, fish, reptiles and insects all developed some variant of the eye, for example, is that it’s an extremely useful organ for perceiving the environment. Emotional crying is seen among a similarly (though not equally) broad range of organisms, so it’s not irrational to ask whether it serves some purpose that may not be initially obvious.

Off the top of my head, I must admit that I can’t think of any advantages. Of course, I’m not a biologist or anything remotely related, so that doesn’t mean all that much.

I’m going to have to ask for a cite. What other species exhibit “emotional crying” behaviour?

Hmm. In typing my response to this, it occurs to me that I misread the OP. I was going to post that I have no earthly notion, because, as mentioned, I have no academic background whatsoever in biology, but that the OP seemed to believe that other species do this, hence his reason for asking the question (which reason was what panache45 was asking about). But that was because I read


…which would suggest that he believed that. The actual quote is just a query, so my first post was indeed pointless.

In short, ignore everything I said, and I’ll bow out of this thread before I make myself look like any more of an ass. Sorry. :smack:

No don’t. I don’t know either if other species cry. But you touched on the esscence of the question tho. What biological, evolutionary reason is there for crying? I can’t think of a good reason. You could also add to it smiling and laughing.

Crying is a form of communication - a signal that the person who is crying is experiencing physical or emotional pain. The survival value comes from the response it usually triggers in others: sympathy and a desire to help. The value is greatest for children before they learn to speak, but it works even for adults.

BTW, crying is more than tears coming from the eyes. It also involves reddening of the face, facial expression and vocalization (sobbing at an extreme).

Sorry scruloose, I don’t think I buy the explanation about “removing toxins caused by stress”. If that were so you’d expect test pilots, soldiers in battle etc. to be in permanent floods of tears.

The “signal that the person who is crying is experiencing physical or emotional pain” sounds more likely. Particularly as it doesn’t require a language, and babies are pretty limited in their communication skills.

Our toy poodle has cried just after being walked next to a fence with some big barking dogs that took her by surprise. She was in definate emotional distress for some time after the event. Teary eyes and little crying noises too. So my vote is yes, other species can and do cry. As to which ones do and don’t, i’m not so sure.

I think there is no doubt that this is at least part of it. A baby’s only method of communication is crying. And boy, when they cry, and it is your own, it produces a remarkable response. You feel compelled to help. This is a problem when the baby merely has a stomach pain and there is nothing you can do about it.

My WAG is that it is essentially a form of communicating for young humans who can’t talk. The crying response to emotional and physical pain is then retained into adulthood.

As to why crying involves weeping tear ducts, I don’t know and can’t guess. It is interesting to note that very young babies don’t shed tears when they cry.

I seem to recall reading, or hearing about, some research concerning the stress relieving qualities of crying and that it was very cathartic. I’m one of those guys who was raised to believe that boys don’t cry and it’s a sign of weakness, I no longer believe that, but I can’t recall the last time I cried, although I can think of several times when it might have been good to do so.

Why do people think that every single minutiae in our lives must have some sort of “meaning,” or “purpose,” or evolutionary advantage. Many things are a result of some long-ago random mutation, and since they don’t interfere with our ability to reproduce, we’re stuck with them.

Of course, this doesn’t stop people from inventing some kind of “reason,” where none exists. I guess it makes people feel better to think everything happens for a reason, whether or not this has anything to do with reality.

Not everyone cries, so I can’t imagine there’s a purpose in it. I think someone around here started a crying thread and there were folks who said they haven’t cried in decades.

I wish I was one of 'em. I’m better than I used to be, but I cry over the silliest shit sometimes.

A great Salon article on tears and Frey’s research may be found here.