31 May 2022

Crying at the movies is a sign of strength

From Afternoons, 1:30 pm on 31 May 2022

Do you find yourself blubbering at movies? Maybe a little tear rolling down your cheek as the credits roll? It could be a sign of your emotional strength.

University of Canberra professor of psychology Deborah Rickwood tells Afternoons crying in the movies is a sign that your brain is releasing the hormone oxytocin.

The Lion King - Disney movie

Photo: Supplied

Oxytocin is associated with heightened feelings of empathy and compassion, so relating to or feeling connected to a story or character can trigger our emotional response, Rickwood says.

“Crying in the movies and in response to really compelling stories, it actually shows … you have a strong empathy response and empathy is one of the five key characteristics of emotional intelligence, so it's a strength.”

High emotional intelligence has been shown to be related to being a good leader, to being successful professionally, and for academic achievements, she says.

“People who are high in emotional intelligence have better social and intimate relationships, and it helps you to deal with stress and conflict, and I guess it just means that you're more aware and attuned to your emotions, and as long as you can regulate them, that makes you better able to be socially connected, get along with other people.”

If you don’t respond to the tear-jerker scenes, it could be because you’re not absorbed in the story or because you’ve become accustomed to suppressing your emotions, she says.

“I've heard some men, for example, will cry at the football, and it depends what it is that sort of pushes your buttons.”

But crying is a useful skill and people need to understand that being emotionally aware and responsive is a sign of strength, she says.

“Crying is basically a way of getting over getting upset and humans are the only animals who emotionally cry.

“Crying releases endorphins in your brain. I mean, [for] most of us, if you have a really good cry, you'll notice you need to go and have a little sleep afterwards. You’re kind of drained, you're more relaxed, it is a release of emotion that's good for us.”

There is some evidence to show that we become more emotional as we age, and Rickwood believes that has to do with our gained experiences across time.

“You hear particularly from people who become parents and especially men when they become fathers, they find that when they see movies about fathers and sons ... they will cry and really respond to that, which they wouldn't have before they became a father.

“So, I think the older you get, the more experience of social connections, the more things you pay attention to that are meaningful to you, so more things then emotionally arouse you.”