Crying tears of joy may be the mind’s way of restoring emotional equilibrium, according to a new study.
Shedding tears might seem a strange response to happiness, but a new study suggests that it helps people cope with overwhelming emotions.
Dr. Oriana Aragon, the study’s lead author, was surprised that no one had investigated why people sometimes respond by crying to strong positive emotions:
“They seem to take place when people are overwhelmed with strong positive emotions, and people who do this seem to recover better from those strong emotions.”
The study’s authors give all kinds of examples:
- Teenage girls scream and cry at a Justin Bieber concert.
- Spouses cry when reunited with a soldier returning from war.
- Lottery winners disintegrate into floods of tears.
- Soccer players scream when they score the winning goal.
- People pinch the cheeks of very cute babies.
In the study, to be published in Psychological Science, people’s responses were tested to all sorts of scenarios, including cute babies and happy reunions (Aragon et al., 2014).
The results showed that people whose reactions were negative when faced with positive news were better able to control their emotions.
Some people were also particularly adept at controlling their emotions in this way.
People who were likely to pinch a cute baby’s cheek were also more likely to cry at a child’s graduation.
There was also some evidence that this emotional regulation system works to rebalance the effects of negative emotions by fighting them with positive ones.
For example, people will sometimes laugh (nervously) when they are faced with frightening or dangerous situations.
People have even be known to smile when they are actually feeling very sad.
Dr. Aragon said:
“These insights advance our understanding of how people express and control their emotions, which is importantly related to mental and physical health, the quality of relationships with others, and even how well people work together.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Remi. P.