The giblets in our family were brought up with that stiff upper lip type of manner. No unnecessary emotion, no displays of passion and most definitely no blubbing = crying. Tears were not on. Of course if you were physically hurt (hurt equating to you being starkers wrapped in barbed wire or having a log jammed underneath your fingernails), then a few discreet tears were allowed, but a good old weep, tears falling copiously, not so much.
If you don’t believe me, take it from a rather famous Englishman, Charles Darwin. When it came to solving the riddle of the peacock’s tail, Charles Darwin’s powers of evolutionary deduction were second to none – the more extravagant their feathered displays, he reasoned, the greater their chances of attracting a peahen. But when he tried to account for the human propensity to weep, Darwin found himself at a loss. “We must look at weeping as an incidental result, as purposeless as the secretion of tears from a blow outside the eye,” he wrote in 1872.
The illustration, by the by, is of Alice in The Pool of Tears, drawn by John Tenniel.
All of this aside though, are humans the only creatures that cry because of emotion? Blogista Shaw took to the virtual pavement to find out.
As Mr Darwin must have figured out, humans shed tears for a number of reasons – to keep the eye lubricated inside the socket; to eject foreign matter and to protect the eye and although crying has been documented in apes, elephants and even camels, it seems that only humans produce emotional tears, and it is only in humans that crying behaviours persist into adulthood.
It makes sense that a baby or toddler cries as this will (usually) invoke a response in the parent and in olden times (like waaaaay back) although in certain situations weeping could be risky, it is far less risky than screaming or emitting some other loud acoustic signal. This is particularly true in the case of interactions at close quarters.
This according to Ad Vingerhoets, a Dutch psychologist, “When other animals grow old, most no longer emit distress signals, presumably because it is too dangerous. By contrast, in humans there is a shift from the acoustic signal, emitted in all directions, toward the visual signal of tears, which especially fit closer, more intimate interactions.”
So, there we have it. Not only does it seems as if we’re the only creatures that do cry from emotion, but we’ve turned it into an art form and carried it through into adulthood.
That said, I can’t deny that having a good old cry really does make me feel heaps better, if somewhat wrung out and looking like I’ve just come out of a 2 day bender.