Why only humans shed emotional tears: Evolutionary and cultural perspectives

A. Gracanin, L.M. Bylsma, A.J.J.M. Vingerhoets

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Abstract

Producing emotional tears is a universal and uniquely human behavior. Until recently, tears have received little serious attention from scientists. Here, we summarize recent theoretical developments and research findings. The evolutionary approach offers a solid ground for the analysis of the functions of tears. This is especially the case for infant crying, which we address in the first part of this contribution. We further elaborate on the antecedents and (intra- and interpersonal) functions of emotional tears in adults. The main hypothesis that emerges from this overview is that crying evolved as an emotional expression that signals distress and promotes prosocial behaviors in conspecifics. Further, shedding tears may influence themood of the crier and his/her outlook on life primarily as a consequence of fulfillment of the proposed signaling function of tears. We also describe how cultural phenomena such as ritual weeping nicely fit within this framework, as they often aim to support a request for help to a powerful person or deity and promote social bonding
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104–133
JournalHuman Nature
Volume29
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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