Human Nature

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 104–133 | Cite as

Why Only Humans Shed Emotional Tears

Evolutionary and Cultural Perspectives
  • Asmir Gračanin
  • Lauren M. Bylsma
  • Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets


Producing emotional tears is a universal and uniquely human behavior. Until recently, tears have received little serious attention from scientists. Here, we summarize recent theoretical developments and research findings. The evolutionary approach offers a solid ground for the analysis of the functions of tears. This is especially the case for infant crying, which we address in the first part of this contribution. We further elaborate on the antecedents and (intra- and interpersonal) functions of emotional tears in adults. The main hypothesis that emerges from this overview is that crying evolved as an emotional expression that signals distress and promotes prosocial behaviors in conspecifics. Further, shedding tears may influence the mood of the crier and his/her outlook on life primarily as a consequence of fulfillment of the proposed signaling function of tears. We also describe how cultural phenomena such as ritual weeping nicely fit within this framework, as they often aim to support a request for help to a powerful person or deity and promote social bonding.


Tears Infant crying Weeping Evolution Psychology Social bonding 



We would like to express our gratitude to two anonymous reviewers for their careful reading of a previous version and their many constructive and very stimulating and helpful comments and suggestions that resulted in much better manuscript. This work was supported by the NEWFELPRO project of the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the MSES (Grant No. 32).


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Asmir Gračanin
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Lauren M. Bylsma
    • 4
  • Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medical and Clinical PsychologyTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Tilburg Center for Cognition and CommunicationTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of RijekaRijekaCroatia
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of PittsburghBradfordUSA

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