Many people assume those who let their tears fly during movies are weaker than the rest, but the truth is, they have something others are lacking. Whether you’re merely getting watery-eyed or actually boohoo-ing in the middle of the theater, you’re expressing something most are unable to.
Research has shown that most people in the world have been brought to tears at least a time or two while watching some kind of movie or show. While many people make fun of those who empathize with the characters they see on screens, they probably shouldn’t be. People who cry during movies have been found to hold more leadership roles, read people more easily, and be much more independent than the average person.
In research that will soon appear in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, those who saw the highly emotional part of the video had a 47% increase in oxytocin as measured in blood. Controlling for distress (which was associated with elevated stress hormones), empathy was highly correlated with the spike in oxytocin. This is the first evidence for the speculation, often from my mouth, that oxytocin is a physiologic signature for empathy.
We also had subjects make decisions that involved money and other people to see if those who were empathically engaged are nicer. Participants were paid for agreeing to let us stick them with a needle (twice). When given a chance to share this money with someone else in the lab being similarly tortured, we found that empathy predicted generosity towards a stranger. Yes, these people were generous with their hard-earned blood money! And they couldn’t even see the people to whom they were giving money, it was all done by computer. Their generosity didn’t even merit a thank you or a smile in return. Empathy made them generous anyway.
At the end of the experiment, we also asked if participants wanted to donate some of their money to the American Red Cross or St. Jude Hospital. Many of them did, even those who had already given money away to a stranger in the lab. We were surprised to discover that some people donated all of their remaining money to charity. Can you guess who responded the most to the emotional video? Yes, women released more oxytocin and were more empathic than men. They also gave twice as much to charity.
So, we cry at movies because the oxytocin in the human brain is imperfectly tuned. It does not differentiate between actual human beings and flickering images of human beings. Either one is enough to kick oxytocin into high gear and impel our empathy. And it reveals why men like me avoid chick flicks–we don’t want to be seen bawling when the guy finally gets the girl.
Those who relate to movies and the things people in them are going through are much more in tune with their own empathic side and able to show empathy to others. This makes them far stronger than those who are unable to do this and leads them to be much more understanding and capable of really benefiting the people around them in real ways. On top of this, crying is a great way to release stress and so when we are able to let the water-works fly, we are working to relax not just our minds but also our bodies.
Sure, this isn’t brute strength but it is strength all the while. Those who are capable of showing this kind of emotion are also capable of exploring their own emotions as a whole and really breaking down the barriers this world presents to them. To learn more on this topic please feel free to check out the video below.