Health

Science Says Crying is Good for You, But Terrible for Romance

by Jennifer Billock

August 27, 2015

Back in May, the Mitsui Garden Hotel Yotsuya in Tokyo began offering a new type of service just for women: crying rooms. For 10,000 Japanese yen per person, guests can schedule a deluxe weepy vacation in a room designed for emotional release. Amenities include tearjerker movies, emotional manga, and luxury tissues to sop up every tear in high style. Mitsui Garden even provides warm eye masks to reduce puffiness after particularly enthusiastic sob-fests.

Though a sabbatical devoted to tears may sound a little silly, the science behind crying’s health benefits is quite serious—and it turns out Mitsui Garden might want to start welcoming men, too. In the Journal of Research in Personality, Dr. Lauren Bylsma revealed that men only cry 1.3 times per month, compared to 5.3 times for women. Yet nearly as many men (73 percent) feel happier and calmer after a good cry as women (85 percent).

So why does weeping feel so darn good? Dr. William H. Frey II, one of the world’s foremost tear researchers, has spent 15 years trying to answer that question. In his book Crying: The Mystery of Tears, Frey demonstrated that manganese—a mineral element that is both nutritionally necessary and potentially toxic in high doses—has a lot to do with it. Too much of this mood-altering mineral leads to behavioral changes and other strange nervous system effects, including slowed hand movements and a disorder called manganisma, but a good crying spell expels excess levels of it from the body.

In addition to providing emotional detox, crying can lead to increased levels of compassion and even strengthened friendships (which might help to alleviate any loneliness that led to those tears in the first place). A study from biologist Oren Hasson published in Evolutionary Psychology examined the effects of tears in different social situations; in the presence of close friends, crying elicits an evolutionary response of support, likely because such a private moment shared among confidants bolsters relationship bonds. So if you’re due for a little crying time, it might be best to forget about hiding out in a Tokyo hotel, and start weeping in front of your BFF instead. In another of Bylsma’s studies, subjects who cried in social circumstances felt better than those who did so alone.

Still, a crying jag isn’t a perfect emotional elixir. When it comes to romance, crying is a total mood-killer— especially for men. Two studies, one published in Science in 2011 and another more recently published in Public Library of Science, found that the smell of women's tears had a sharp and negative impact on men. The study participants not only reported lower testosterone levels, but also a decreased appetite. Which might be enough to induce tears in anyone.

Illustration by Brian Hurst

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