Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 63–72 | Cite as

Why grown-ups cry

A two-factor theory and evidence fromThe Miracle Worker
  • Jay S. Efran
  • Timothy J. Spangler


Adults appear to cry only during a “recovery” phase following a period of arousal. Depending on the perturbation that caused the arousal, the first phase is sometimes described by them in positive terms (e.g., excitement, anticipation) and sometimes in negative terms (loss, threat). However, the tears always seem to be associated with tension reduction and signify that a second event has permitted the system to shift into recovery. In this sense, all tears can be thought of as “tears of joy” they follow the same mechanism regardless of the tone of the initiating circumstances. To provide evidence for this point of view the responses of 11 individuals (including 2 filmmakers) toThe Miracle Worker were analyzed. Their responses supported the hypothesis that crying occurs when a psychological barrier or perturbation “disappears”—it signifies recovery and adaptation rather than the continuation of distress or arousal.


Social Psychology Negative Term Positive Term Tension Reduction Psychological Barrier 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jay S. Efran
    • 1
  • Timothy J. Spangler
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphia

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