Empowered Tears

Empowered Tears
Fecha de publicación: 
28 April 2024
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That pop culture attempts to empower women by ensuring that “women no longer cry, women make money,” according to Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira, is very debatable, there are plenty of arguments to refute it.

But this text is not intended to throw polemics on that sentence or about the song lyrics itself, Las mujeres no Lloran, which gives its name to her new album and which really unleashed a media commotion – which is not equivalent to an aim in the conceptual order.

However, although it may seem like a contradiction, here we are going to talk about women's tears... and men's.

So happens that recent research concluded that tears carry a chemical signal that could reduce aggression. And the key is in its smell.

Released last December by the scientific journal PLOS Biology, the study, developed by the Weizmann Institute of Sciences in Israel, concludes that tears, in addition to their already known meanings, are also a mechanism of mammals that provides them with “a chemical protective blanket against aggression,” according to what researchers said to AFP agency.

Some digital media have referred this conclusion only to female tears, because female rodents and also women – who volunteered as participants – were taken as the source of the study, but experts clarified that this does not mean that this “anti aggressive” affect depends on the sex.

In general, human tears contain a chemical signal that reduces brain activity linked to aggression, they said.

Following up on rodent studies, researchers exposed two groups of male volunteers to inhaling "emotional" tears or saline, with no obvious differences.

"Given that reduced testosterone is associated with reduced aggression, we tested the hypothesis that human tears act like rodent tears to block male aggression," they concluded in a public note.

"Reducing testosterone has a greater effect on aggression in men than in women," clarified one of the authors of the research.

By verifying the decrease in violence in subjects when playing a computer game, they analyzed the impact caused by the smell of tears by studying the brains of men connected to magnetic resonance scanners.

These images showed that the prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula, related to aggression, were activated more when men were provoked during the game, but the effect was not as strong if they had inhaled tears.

Researchers note that rodents' tears contain chemicals used as "social signals."

"All in all, our results imply that, as in rodents, a chemical signal linked to human tears reduces male aggression, a mechanism that’s likely based on the structural and functional overlap of the brain substrates of olfaction and aggression", said the researchers.

Why and how do we cry?

“The deep pain” of Miguel Matamoros for the departure of his beloved made him cry tears that, metaphorically, “were as black as my life.”

But it's not just reasons like those that cause tears. According to the article The neurobiology of human crying, this expression is a secretomotor response to events or behaviors that provoke a reaction at a physiological, cognitive, and social level.

Consequently, there are three types of tears:

• Basal: they are usually produced to keep eyes lubricated and protect them from infections, moistening and cleaning them is their function. They are generated in a type of tear glands called accessory glands that are constantly working; if they don’t do so, the well-known dry eyes occur.

• Reflexes: they appear automatically when the eye is faced with danger such as a foreign object inside and to eliminate harmful substances associated with smoke, gases, dust or other irritants. They create a layer that protects the iris from foreign agents and are identified by being uncontrollable and abundant tears, like those that arise when cutting an onion.

• Emotional: they are triggered by emotions such as sadness, happiness, anger, relief...

Only regarding basal and reflex tears, humans produce on average a total of between 55 and 110 liters of tears per year. Either these as the emotional ones share a common element is that they are produced in the tear glands, located in the eye, and which do not have the function of eliminating toxins, as occurs with other secretions such as sweat or urine.

Cry Cry

All humans have cried at some point in their lives, even when certain prejudices may arise against the flow of certain tears.

From birth until the last moment of existence we cry, and it’s good that this happens, also in the case of emotional tears.

For this reason, there’s an abundance of advice to “cry, cry” not at all associated with unhealthy intentions and rather seeking to relieve tension or anguish.

Emotional tears, more complex than the other two as they involve the brain and hormonal glands, have a high content of hormones and proteins, unlike the others, which are mainly composed of water and ions.

The hormones contained in that emotional crying are those that arise in response to emotionally impactful situations, regulating and releasing stress.

In addition to prolactin and adrenocorticotroph, another of the hormones contained in this type of crying is the so-called leucine enkephalin.

The uniqueness of the latter lies in the fact that they are opioid molecules responsible for modulating the perception of pain as natural analgesics.

That’s why crying also produces a kind of calmness, especially towards the end.

And what’s been said is not only referring to tears due to deep sadness, it also applies to very intense and sudden joy, which also generates crying because it also implies an emotional shudder that breaks the balance.

Therefore, in addition to the biological function of other types of tears, emotional tears are also healthy and at the same time constitute a form of non-verbal communication and make it possible to express and process the most intense emotions.

Even though some faiths, prejudices or cultures consider crying as an expression of weakness, vulnerability and lack of strength, crying is healthy because it releases emotions.

In addition to providing emotional relief, tears also allow us to express empathy. That means, we not only cry when experiencing our own emotions but also when we show solidarity or feel compassion for those of others, which speaks of that valuable emotional connection that distinguishes humans and that, unfortunately, in certain circumstances sometimes seems to fade away.

Crying is good for physical and mental health as it releases stress, facilitates communication and generates bonds.

However, it’s better to try to avoid the reasons that cause crying of sadness and repeat, not with Shakira that "women no longer cry, women make money", but rather the popular refrain multiplied by so many singers of "no need to cry, life is a carnival and it’s more beautiful to live singing.”

Translated by Amilkal Labañino / CubaSí Translation Staff

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