By Steven G. Mehta
There are many reasons why people cry, but bonding is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Usually people think of crying from sadness, pain, or stress. But now a Tel Aviv University evolutionary biologist finds empirical evidence showing that tears can make interpersonal relationships stronger.
According to Zoologist Dr. Oren Hasson tears still signal physiological distress, but they also function as an evolution-based mechanism to bring people closer together.
“Crying is a highly evolved behavior,” explains Dr. Hasson. “Tears give clues and reliable information about submission, needs and social attachments between one another.
“Tears lower defenses and reliably function as signals of submission, a cry for help, and even in a mutual display of attachment and as a group display of cohesion,” Hasson reports. Dr. Hasson investigated the use of tears in various emotional and social circumstances. Tears are used to elicit mercy from an antagonistic enemy, he claims. They are also useful in eliciting the sympathy — and perhaps more importantly the strategic assistance — of people who were not part of the enemy group.
Crying enhances attachments and friendships, says Dr. Hasson, but taboos are still there in certain cases. In some cultures, societies or circumstances, the expression of emotions is received as a weakness and the production of tears is suppressed. For example, it is rarely acceptable to cry in front of your boss at work — especially if you are a man, he says.
Other studies across cultures have shown that crying helps us bond with our families, loved ones and allies, Dr. Hasson says.
Dr. Hasson, a marriage therapist, uses his conclusions in his clinic. “It is important to legitimize emotional tears in relationships,” he says. “Too often, women who cry feel ashamed, silly or weak, when in reality they are simply connected with their feelings, and want sympathy and hugs from their partners.”
This research may assist mediators and negotiators in some very important ways. First, it is important to realize that allowing a person to shed tears in mediation is very important. Many people talk about the need for venting in mediation. But it is also true that people need to grieve and shed tears. Allowing parties to do so not only allows them to signal submission or acceptance of certain fact or issue in the case, but it also allows that person to bond with the other person who allowed the tears to flow freely.
As an example, I worked on a case where I allowed – and probably encouraged – a party to cry during the mediation. After “crying it out” the party was much more reasonable in her position. But interestingly enough, I have worked with her on other mediations and she has raised the topic of her crying at the other mediation and that she felt closer to me because I knew of her vulnerability and accepted it.
All too often people are afraid of tears in mediation. They are afraid that it will dampen the process. In my experience it has actually been a beneficial thing. Dr. Hasson’s research now supports what I suspected before – that crying allows the person to connect on a human and social level to a degree that mere words simply cannot describe.
Tel Aviv University (2009, August 24). Why Cry? Evolutionary Biologists Show Crying Can Strengthen Relationships. ScienceDaily.