I used to be one of those people who cry all the time. I cried at weddings, watching movies, reading books and listening to music. I could be moved to tears just by looking at one of my cats.
Then one day it occurred to me that shedding so many tears was sentimental, maudlin and self-indulgent, and I put a moratorium on it except for when something really terrible happens.
But is remaining dry-eyed bad for my health?
Some believe weeping cleanses by "letting it all out." I'm suspicious of this claim. Crying just makes me feel snotty, tired and generally crappy.
What the experts say
"My studies show that people feel better after crying. They feel less sad, less angry. Alleviating stress is important, no matter how. Crying just happens to be a way of doing this; it may have evolved for that purpose in humans. No one has longitudinally followed one group that cries and another that doesn't to look at health and determine any adverse affect of not crying. There are stress-related hormones in tears, but that doesn't prove that removing those by crying will make you feel better."
WILLIAM FREY, department of neuroscience, University of Minnesota, St. Paul
"The primary health benefits of crying are the ways in which it elicits help from others. Results of lab work on the direct benefit of tears has been very mixed. There's a bit of evidence that crying may make people feel better initially and may increase their equilibrium. But there's a lot of evidence that if someone comforts us and our tears receive a positive response, we'll feel better. We're often tense, angry or sad going into a crying episode, and the exhaustion afterwards can change our bodily state. Sometimes we fall asleep. But are there direct benefits? Did crying evolve to get us back to some homeostasis? It's just not clear."
RANDOLPH CORNELIUS, department of psychology, Vassar, Poughkeepsie, New York
"Crying is associated with mood improvement; a majority of people remember feeling better after crying. But people's memories for this can be suspect. One reason I'm suspicious is that when people cry in a laboratory setting and feelings are measured before and after crying, there's really no evidence that mood is improved. When you do the research more carefully by giving people diaries and measuring every single crying episode closer to when it actually happened, you find that the benefits may be more modest than the conventional wisdom suggests."
JONATHAN ROTTENBERG, department of psychology, U. of South Florida, Tampa
"Women after puberty shed more tears than men; before puberty there's no difference. After puberty, there's an increase in prolactin in women, which is also found in emotional tears (not lubrication ones). Studies suggest that visible tears in a conflict are like a white flag; they might bring people closer together. Women ‘tend and befriend' more than ‘fight or flight.' Tons of research has shown that when women are stressed, they seek social support. My research showed that women felt closer to an actress when she cried talking about her mom dying of cancer versus when she talked about it without crying."
CARRIE LANE, department of psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee