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Why do we cry?

Have you ever stopped to wonder why people cry? Probably not.

Read more to learn about the theories behind why people cry.

Things That Make People Cry

Hollywood is really good at many things – and one of them is making people cry. Let’s face it: you or someone you know has cried out during a sad or emotional movie scene.

Group of friends watching a drama movie

Or maybe you saw a heartwarming story about an abandoned puppy being reunited with its’ owner and teared up at that.  If you’ve never shed a tear while watching a sad or happy movie, then think back to the times you’ve cut an onion – you probably cried then!

Female hands cut onions on wooden board

Why do people cry, then? This article explores some of the reasons why people might cry, but there is no easy answer, and study is still ongoing.

Social Functions of Crying

To understand the many reasons for why people cry, let’s meet the Smith family. The Smith family recently welcomed a baby girl, Bella. Bella cries a lot. Why?

Happy family taking picture

Crying may occur for many reasons, including attention seeking. The infant girl cries because she has learned or simply understands that doing so will result in food or affection.

Portrait of sad African American baby crying alone

This type of crying is normal for an infant and is not consciously manipulative. Even grownups will cry in this way to let the other members of the group know that there is a problem that must be fixed.

However, some types of crying can be used against you. Bobby, an 8-year-old, tears, for instance, when his father Jack refuses to buy him chocolates at the store.

Bobby might have discovered that, depending on the situation, crying will help him achieve what he wants by making his dad feel guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed.

Because he is a sensitive man, Bobby’s crying causes his father to cry as well. When his wife notices Jack crying, she walks over to comfort him. Crying, in this case, seeks to gain support from a member of the social group. 

Crying woman

Since we are pack animals, crying in each of these three situations serves some form of social function. From a social perspective, crying generally helps to communicate our feelings and physical reactions to others in order to build relationships and, in some cases, to manipulate others.

Physiological Functions of Crying

Other than social functions, crying has physiological purposes as well. The Smith family also includes Becky, a young woman who has been working hard to prepare for her final exams.

Becky cries softly in her room as a result of her intense frustration with the stress of studying. Why? Some people suggest that it might be because crying helps in the release of stress chemicals. This means that she releases stress-related chemicals by crying.

Jackie, however, is a little tired of seeing everyone cry. She prefers to relax by cooking instead than crying. She enters the kitchen in order to distract herself from the tears. She starts chopping an onion as she is cooking the meal. Before she knows it, she’s crying too.

This is because of the fact that when an onion is cut, biochemicals are released into the air and come into contact with the eyes. The body produces tears to wash certain biochemicals out of the eyes because those biochemicals hurt them. So in Jackie’s case, crying serves as a protective mechanism to help protect her sensitive eyes from damage.


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