Why Does Everything Make Me Cry?

A look at the science behind why some people cry all the time — and others never do

Cassie Archdeacon
Elemental

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Photo: Aliyah Jamous/Unsplash

AsAs a frequent crier, I’ve discovered there’s a wide range of crying behaviors: There are the people who cry as frequently as they, say, pee, those who think of tears as eyeball invaders, and everyone in between. In times like these, when people are coping with stress in a variety of ways, I have some questions. How could it be that for many — like me — crying is a daily routine, while other people remain stoic even when reading horrifying news about the coronavirus outbreak or watching a devastating film? We’re of the same species after all.

As infants, humans cry for survival. But, as we learn to speak, crying shifts from a biological necessity to an empathetic response. Humans are unique in this — no other mammals are known to cry emotional tears. In a 2012 New York Times op-ed, behavioral neurologist Michael Trimble writes that “brain circuits are activated, rapidly and unconsciously, when we see another in emotional distress,” and that the evolution of these circuits has “made civilization, and an ethics based on compassion, possible.” This is a scientific way of explaining something that’s actually quite magical: Crying is the basis of what makes us human. It allows us to be vulnerable while alerting the world to our…

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Cassie Archdeacon
Elemental

Writer and MFA student living in Brooklyn with my boyfriend, our imaginary dog, and our family of houseplants. @cassiearch