There are people who cry easily with sad movies to watch, others are ashamed to show their emotions, especially men, because think that tears will make them weaker. But it is certain that crying watching a movie is not a sign of weakness, on the contrary, indicates that these people are stronger emotionally.
In fact, there is nothing shameful in tears. Crying is human and simply indicates an emotion, which can be sadness, nostalgia, happiness or anger. In fact, crying watching a movie is an indication of empathy. And empathetic people also tend to have more success on a social level.
We cry watching movies because we’re empathetic
When the characters are well represented, we can empathize with them and see reality through their eyes. In fact, different studies carried out through functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that virtually our brain connects with the character with which we identify ourselves, to the point it activates the same brain areas we need to perform the tasks we see played in movies, such as walking, jumping or clapping, for example.
This capability also allows us understanding the situation and the character’s point of view, as well as experiences his emotions. Of course, empathy is closely linked with the way in which our brain is organized, in particular with mirror neurons, which are primarily responsible for helping us to put ourselves in others’ shoes.
On the other hand, when we watch movies with a high emotional content, our brain also releases oxytocin, a powerful neurotransmitter which helps us connect with others and allows us be more empathetic, kind, reliable and disinterested. It has been proven by an interesting research conducted at the Claremont Graduate School.
During this experiment, psychologists asked participants to see a video filmed in the St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Half of the persons have seen a part of the video where a father is speaking of the terminal cancer of his son, a child. The other half saw a portion of the video in which the child and the father carelessly visited the zoo and do not spoke of the disease.
As expected, the part where appeared the father talking about his son’s cancer has generated a higher emotional response: the participants showed a 47% increase in the levels of oxytocin in blood.
Afterwards, each participant had to take a series of economic decisions and about relations with other people. The results showed that those who have seen the video with the emotional content were more generous with strangers, and likely to donate money to charity. What’s more interesting, those who donated money also reported to feel happier.
This means that empathy, and behaviors triggered by such attitude, such as crying when we identify with the characters in a movie, it’s not really a sign of weakness but, on the contrary, it is an ability that allows us connect with others and that at the end turns us into stronger and happier people.
In fact, empathy is one of the paths leading to resilience. When we are able to understand others, our emotional universe expands. Someway, these experiences we live through others help us become stronger emotionally and prepare us for when we have to go through similar circumstances.
The difficulty to put ourselves in the shoes of others is a disadvantage in the society, while the emotional sensitivity, the ability to understand others and experience their emotions, allows us expand our emotional horizon and become stronger.
Crying also improves our mood
If you need more reasons not to suppress crying during a movie, here’s another study, this time developed by psychologists at the University of Tilburg, which has shown that sad movies can actually improve our mood, but only if we give free rein to tears.
These psychologists have studied the emotional effect of crying on 60 participants as they watched a movie, and found that people tend to feel better after crying. At first they felt sad, then found themselves the balance and subsequently their mood significantly improved, a positive effect that was maintained for about 90 minutes.
In fact, only those who cried reported they were feeling better. Who suppressed the emotions they were feeling felt worse after seeing the movie. Tears have a cathartic effect, which finally improves our mood and makes us feel more relaxed, reducing the heart rate and the respiratory one.
Therefore, next time you see a movie and want to cry, follow the advice of the Uruguayan poet Sara Ibáñez: “I’ll cry without haste. I’ll cry until I forget the tears and will be able to smile”.
Gračanin, a. et. Al. (2015) Why crying does and sometimes does not seem to alleviate mood: a quasi-experimental study. Motivation and Emotion; 39(6): 953-960.
Barraza, J. A. & Zak, P. J. (2009) Empathy toward strangers triggers oxytocin release and subsequent generosity. Ann N Y Acad Sci; 1167:182-189.