In 1662 Danish scientist Niels Stensen discovered that the lacrimal gland in the corner of each eye is the source of our tears. Human eyes produce three different types of tears, each with different purposes. Basal tears clean and lubricate the eyes. Responding to environmental stresses produces reflex tears. For example, we experience this kind of tears when we cut an onion. The third type is more mysterious. Emotional tears are different from other tears.
One difference is that we have some control over emotional tears. Secondly, they contain hormones and proteins not found in other tears. The proteins cause them to stick to our faces. Thirdly, researchers suggest that they are useful in confirming to others that we are truly happy or very sad. For example, watching a “tearjerker” movie causes us to produce emotional tears.
Emotional tears are different from other tears since only humans release emotional tears in moments of sorrow or joy. They are a way of communicating and sharing our emotions. The limbic system in the brain, which is associated with emotional arousal, triggers the brain’s message station (pons) to signal the lacrimal system to produce tears. No other animal produces emotional tears.
Researchers believe that emotional tears are a social cue to other humans to indicate that we need help. Babies don’t have fully developed lacrimal glands, so they can’t produce visible tears. Instead, they audibly cry when they need attention. As humans mature, emotional tears indicate a broad range of needs and feelings, including compassion, empathy, and sentimental or moral feelings.
People who shed emotional tears and receive support from others feel better. Holding back the tears or not receiving social and moral support leaves a person feeling less satisfied. Emotional tears are different from other tears because they can bring us together for spiritual and emotional healing. As humans, we have unique needs because of our relationship with each other and with God. That is one of the many factors showing that God created us in His image.
— John N. Clayton © 2023
Reference: American Academy of Ophthalmology website