19 October 2012
Cry Me a River: The Truth about Tears
Tears. A common ground for all people. Everyone cries, but whether they want to admit it or not is a personal choice. For some, crying expresses weakness, a characteristic that brings upon them the ridicule of their peers; for others, tears are a natural way to express their emotions without holding them in. However, crying is used by many to relieve stress and helps them to calm down after an intense emotional experience. People shed tears because of natural causes, psychological stimuli, and sociological assimilation; knowing each of these triggers can help you to better understand the behavior of those around you. Although typically associated with emotion, tears are originally produced by the body to protect the eye from foreign irritants and keep the eye lubricated while one blinks. Irritants that may find their way into your eye can include the following: dirt, pollen, sand, dust, or even an eyelash. The eye will sense the abrasive object when you first blink your eye; which can be extremely irritating, or barely felt. Your tear ducts will then secrete a tear in hopes of flushing out the foreign object. Often times the irritant (It may not always be an object) will not be successfully washed away by the first tear, causing a succession of tears to flow until the irritant is effectively displaced. Not only does the eye use tears as a form of self-protection, it also uses tears—albeit in a much less voluminous capacity—to simply keep itself moist. The eye produces a salty tear every time you blink your eye which acts as a lubricant to keep your eye moist, preventing the friction of blinking from irritating and causing damage to the eyeball (Driscoll). Another common sighting of tears would be the point where they well up after a person yawns. These tears are actually released due to built-up pressure within the facial muscles, causing the tear ducts to release the liquid in order to release some of the pressure. When dealing with the action of literally crying, the best example of emotionally detached tears would be those of a newborn baby. An infant only has one way of expressing when it is in need—crying. However at this young of an age, a baby does not have the ability to reason as well as an older child and will not think to use the tears as a way of either expressing emotion or gaining unwarranted attention, but only as a means of communicating their plight. While the natural and physical explanation of tears is easy enough to discover, it is the psychological and sociological reasons that are truly difficult to understand. As most people assume, crying is a major outlet people use to express emotion. Frustration, stress, sadness, and even extreme happiness—these are just a few triggers. Any sort of intense emotion can cause a buildup of chemicals in the body, producing tension that is most easily relieved by the shedding of tears. Scientists have proven that the emotionally produced tears contain more manganese and prolactin than normal tears. The manganese in the tears is thought to create a balancing effect on our emotions. Equally important, prolactin is thought to create a soothing effect, and is even used to help regulate milk production in mammals (Ellis-Christensen, Tricia, and O. Wallace). The prolactin found in tears could be one of the reasons that women tend to cry more than men. One source that many decry would be an article in the newspaper The Week which contained a falsifiable article by the name of “The Crying Myth: Why weeping Isn’t Really Cathartic.” The article, written about a Dutch science experiment, basically claims that many women were tested to see if crying would help them to feel better, but in fact many of them claimed the opposite effect. Listed in the replies was a comment by commenter Paul F. that stated “As a clinical psychologist with 35 years of experience and...