A new study shows that tears function as an evolution-based mechanism to bring people closer together. Analysis suggests that by blurring vision, tears lower defenses signaling submission, a cry for help, and a mutual display of attachment.
"Crying is highly evolved behavior," says Dr. Oren Hasson, the evolutionary biologist at Tel Aviv University who conducted the study. "Tears give clues and reliable information about submission, needs, and social attachments between one another. My research is trying to answer what the evolutionary reasons are for having emotional tears."
Hasson investigated the use of tears in various emotional and social circumstances. "This is strictly human," Hasson explains. "Emotional tears also signal appeasement, a need for attachment in times of grief, and a validation of emotions among family, friends and members of a group." Crying also enhances attachments and friendships and bonds us with our families and loved ones.
"It is important to legitimize emotional tears in relationships," Hasson says. "Too often, women who cry feel ashamed, silly or weak, when in reality they're simply connected with their feelings, and want sympathy and hugs from their partners."
That isn't to say that crying at work will become acceptable. "The efficacy of this evolutionary behavior always depends on who you're with when you cry those buckets of tears, and it probably won't be effective in places, like at work, when emotions should be hidden," Hasson says.