Why Crying During Movies Is Actually A Power Move
Why did Disney think it was a good idea to toy with our emotions and give us a fear of stampeding wildebeest?
The Lion King might have been the first time a lot of us cried in a movie, and there’s probably been a lot since then. Thankfully, there’s been some new research into the matter and it turns out that crying during a movie could actually be a sign of emotional strength.
Why Crying In Movies Is Linked To Emotional Strength
Empathy is considered one of the main reasons that movies can make us cry. According to psychologists, it’s one of the five characteristics of emotional intelligence — the other four being self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and social skills.
And emotional intelligence is associated with a lot of positive attributes, like effective leadership, academic achievement, and strong relationships. It’s also linked to positive mental health and being better at dealing with stress.
Research on empathy often involves measuring a hormone called oxytocin. It’s known as the ‘love hormone’ and there’s been a bunch of studies which explore its role in social bonding, especially in childbirth and relationships.
It’s also been found that oxytocin helps to enhance an emotional response. So crying during a movie means that you might have higher levels of oxytocin and heightened emotional awareness. But why do our eyes well up in an emotional scene from all of that oxytocin?
Different Kinds Of Crying
There are actually three different kinds of tears. Basal tears are just there doing their job and keeping our eyes moisturised. Reflex tears are the ones that flush out material that irritate our eyes, like dust or chopping onions.
Then there’s the emotional tears, and they’re actually chemically different. Emotional tears contain proteins and hormones that aren’t in the other two types of tears, which some scientists think might be linked to regulating stress.
One study even showed that men’s testosterone levels can actually respond to the smell of different kinds of tears. They compared men’s responses to actual emotional tears compared to saline solution, and found reduced levels of testosterone and arousal.
Crying can also reflect different attachment styles. Those with insecure attachment can cry more easily and be harder to stop. Dismissive or avoidant attachment styles were less likely to cry and tried harder to not cry.
Clearly emotional tears are powerful, and might be why we feel less stressed after letting it all out over a movie with a box of tissues.
Why Do We Cry?
Crying and the physical appearance of tears is also a form of communication. One study showed that faces with tears digitally removed made it harder for people to accurately guess what emotion that type of face was showing. Participants of the study didn’t just rate the faces as being less sad, but that they seemed to portray ambiguous feelings like concern.
Another study looked at who’s around when you cry and how that can change whether crying can be helpful for our emotional state. Unsurprisingly, if participants cried around someone who was supportive, they felt better. They were also more likely to feel better if they cried alone or around one other person, as opposed to two or more people.
There’s clearly an emotional benefit to crying as a way to show and understand complex human emotions. And it’s pretty impressive that some of us can feel something enough to cry even through the screen from movies and TV.
There does tend to be a social perception of crying being a sign of weakness or instability. But research shows that it’s a huge part of forming emotional connections.
Since human survival is rooted deeply in our ability to form social connections, being a crybaby during movie night might just mean you have superior survival instincts.