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Why grown-ups cry

A two-factor theory and evidence fromThe Miracle Worker

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Jay S. Efran.

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Efran, J.S., Spangler, T.J. Why grown-ups cry. Motiv Emot 3, 63–72 (1979). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00994161

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Keywords

  • Social Psychology
  • Negative Term
  • Positive Term
  • Tension Reduction
  • Psychological Barrier