Women actually cry a lot

Women's tears make men soft : Go ahead and cry!

Tears are great for manipulating people. “Tears are also profitable. You will soften steel through tears ”, wrote the Roman poet Ovid. Crying is an emotional leverage, as anyone who has ever seen a mother who tries to drag her little child past the candy shelves in the supermarket knows that.

Israeli researchers now claim to have discovered a much more direct way in which tears manipulate people: with a chemical messenger. Although they could not have identified the substance itself, they could have identified its effect on men, writes the team around Noam Sobel from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot in the specialist journal "Science".

The researchers initially let 24 men smell tears and a saline solution. The subjects could not see any difference between the two substances. A small pad was then stuck to the upper lip of the male test subjects. The researchers then dripped either the replacement fluid or "fresh" tears from women who had cried minutes before watching a sad movie.

If the men received real tears, they later rated photos of women as less attractive, their testosterone levels dropped and they also stated that they were less sexually aroused. This was also shown in the brain scanner: if the men smelled tears, they showed less activity in brain centers that are involved in the sensation of sexual arousal.

"All of this suggests that female tears contain a chemical signal that reduces sexual arousal in men," the scientists write. “Chemical signals are a language and I think we have now discovered the word no,” says Sobel.
The American pharmacist William Frey, who was one of the first to research the composition of tears in the 1970s, is not convinced by the results. He criticizes that the scientists trickled the tears right under the test subjects' noses. "When a woman cries, she doesn't cry directly on my upper lip," says Frey. “That is unrealistic.” Sobel rejects the criticism. In reality, the effect of tears is likely to be even greater. “It's a drop of liquid that rolls down a 37 degree warm surface,” he says. "Excellent for a substance that should be dispersed in the air."

But Frey also criticizes the fundamental approach of the researchers. “You should have tested emotional tears against other tears, not against a saline solution.” After all, it is known that tears contain hormones and these could possibly explain the observed effect. “I'm really happy that someone is researching tears,” says Frey. "But to be honest, I was shocked to see this study appear in a prestigious magazine like Science." He's not saying the results might not be correct. "But let's see if other people can reproduce this data."

Sobel believes he can finally explain why humans are the only animals to cry. Tears can be found all over the animal kingdom and they fulfill important tasks: They smooth out unevenness in the cornea, supply it with nutrients and contain natural antibiotics to protect against infections. If harmful chemical substances get into the eye or a foreign body threatens to injure the eye, tear production is cranked in order to wash away the intruder.

But emotional tears are scientifically bizarre: We are sad or happy and suddenly the lacrimary apparatus begins to increase the production of tear fluid to 400 times the normal, and tears run down our cheeks.

Researchers know that women cry an average of 30 to 64 times a year and men only six to 17 times a year. Women in higher paid jobs cry less than women in general, nurses more often than doctors, men in Spain and Peru particularly rarely, women from Turkey and the USA particularly often. But this measurement of crying, all the tearful diaries, questionnaires and laboratory tests did not help the scientists to answer the crucial question: Why do we cry at all?

The riddle was already causing Darwin to sleep. There have been many suggestions since then: Frey, for example, believes that tears serve to eliminate excess or harmful substances from the body and Sigmund Freud was convinced that crying is an act of psychological cleansing. Other theories are more bizarre. The “farewell theory” says that at farewell parties the smoke from campfires brought tears to people's eyes and that this led to a combination of tears and grief.

Sobel and his team now think they have found the answer: We cry in order to communicate. Sobel doesn't think this is all about sexual arousal. "We may have only seen a small part of a larger picture here, and tears are generally used to reduce aggression," he says. But that's just speculation at the moment. “There are now many exciting questions to be answered: Can tears send other chemical signals in other situations? Are the tears of women different from those of men? ”And above all: which molecule is the cause? Sobel now even has a medical application in mind. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and one way to treat it is to lower testosterone. If Sobel and his team should actually find a harmless substance in tears that lowers testosterone levels, then tears could still have a healing effect.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page