Does Crying Help? Apparently Not, According To New Research

Aussie psychologists made almost 200 young women cry, and analysed the results.

People are often told to "have or good cry" or "you just need to cry it out" in order to feel better.

This commonly held attitude is what Queensland researchers wanted to put to the test.

Twenty five-year-old psychologist Leah Sharman spearheaded the research as part of her PHD -- and she was in good company. University of Queensland academics teamed up with Dutch clinical psychologist Professor Ad Vingerhoets -- the world's foremost expert on crying.

"I wanted to understand the functionality of adults crying, why they use it and it good for them, or helpful or do they just get negative outcomes," said Sharman.

Overall, the research refutes the popular notion that crying is beneficial, especially when it comes to dealing with physical pain or discomfort.

"We believe that this is the first comprehensive and large study of its kind to examine crying and coping,  and I've not seen any research in Australia on crying at all" she told ten daily.

The research involved 197 women randomly assigned to watch confronting videos including the one below.

'We got them to watch sad videos, we selected the saddest one first it was about pets in their dying days, there were also videos of family beings dying of cancer, all really emotive and touching," Sharman said.

 

Sharman then monitored their response including stress levels and heart rate.

"Overall crying didn't seem to help stress levels, it didn't lower them and peoples heart rate didn't change. In fact people felt much, much worse after they cried."

Humans are believed to be the only species that cry into adulthood, and experts aren't exactly sure why.

In the 19th century English naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin suggested "when we must look at weeping as an incidental result, as purposeless."

Sharman's research findings weren't far off. Participants were asked to put their hand in a bucket of icy water while they cried to test if their tolerance for discomfort increased.

"It didn't. There are theories that crying can help overcome emotional and physical pain and we found the opposite."

Sharman and Vingerhoets. IMAGE: Supplied.

Vingerhoets is one of less than a handful of experts who has spent years studying the science behind crying.

"It's been very easy working with him, he is very generous with his time and helpful. I mainly spoke to him to get his input on my area of research to make sure it's original and that he hasn't already done it," she said.

Sharman said the one "good thing" about crying could be a change of behavior that follows.

"While crying doesn't help make you feel better -- perhaps crying starts to trigger thoughts like 'Ok I need to calm down or I need to do something about this' that can help get you out of the mood."

Contact the author at alattouf@networkten.com.au.