Clinical Autonomic Research

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 63–73 | Cite as

The neurobiology of human crying

  • Lauren M. BylsmaEmail author
  • Asmir Gračanin
  • Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets


The production of emotional tears appears to be uniquely present in Homo sapiens. Despite the ubiquity of this human behavior, research is only just beginning to uncover the neurobiologic underpinnings of human emotional crying. In this article, we review the current state of the literature investigating the neurobiologic aspects of this uniquely human behavior, including the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and psychophysiologic findings. To set the context for this review, we first provide a brief overview of the evolutionary background and functions of tearful crying. Despite an accumulating understanding of the neurobiology of human emotional crying, the primary sources of information are currently from animal studies and observations in neurologic patients suffering from pathologic crying. Currently, most of the research on the neurobiology of crying in humans has focused on autonomic physiologic processes underlying tearful crying, which may yield essential clues regarding the neural substrates of the production of crying behavior and its effects on the crier. Further challenges in elucidating the neurobiology of crying involve the complexity of crying behavior, which includes vocalizations, tear production, the involvement of facial musculature, subjective emotional experience, emotion regulatory behaviors, and social behaviors. Future research is needed to comprehensively characterize the neurobiology of this intriguing and complex human behavior.


Crying Tears Social Emotion Neurobiology Physiology 



The authors express their gratitude for the input of Ton van Boxtel and Kees Brunia on earlier versions of the figure. The final figure was drawn by Rogier Trompert. The authors also appreciate the feedback from two anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript. The first author, Lauren M. Bylsma, is supported by an NIMH K01 Award (MH104325).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states there are no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.University of RijekaRijekaCroatia
  3. 3.Tilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands

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