The age-old advice that it’s freeing to “have a good cry” now and then now has some scientific backing.
In a study, subjects were sat in front of weepy movies, and although those who cried felt worse right after the films ended, an hour later they felt a lot better than the curmudgeons who sat through these tear-jerkers without blubbing.
“Humans are the only species having the capacity to shed emotional tears,” says study lead Asmir Gračanin.”Nevertheless, it has received little attention of researchers and the understanding of its functions is still very limited.”
Crying may help us release our emotions, or it may serve to tell others that we’re in distress, a wet and salty cry for help. Or, says Gračanin, it may do both.
Methodologically, the study was somewhat subjective. Sixty subjects watched a movie, and the research teams watched them via camera to determine the criers (28) and non-criers (32). All subjects were then asked to reflect on their mood immediately before and after watching, 20 minutes later, and then 90 minutes after the end of the movie.
Right after the movie, “negative mood significantly increased” in criers, whereas the hard-hearted non-criers felt no change. After 90 minutes, though, the sobbing whimperers “reported mood enhancements.”
The conclusion, then, is that crying makes you feel worse, but not for long. It takes a little while to recover, but when you do, you feel better. Just like mother says.
By now, you must be wondering which movies were used in the study. The researchers chose Roberto Benigni’s La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) and Lasse Hallström’s Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. Both solid choices, although you do have to wonder whether the people who didn’t cry during La Vita è Bella (60% of participants) are even human.