Blood, sweat and tears
: the intra- and interindividual function of adult emotional weeping

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Crying accompanies a person’s most important life moments, it is a new-born’s primary mode of communication, and is found in all cultures at every stage of a person’s life. Crying is thought to not only communicate emotions, but to act as a cathartic mechanism that reduces physiological arousal and improves mood. Whilst crying involves different behaviours, it is the visible shedding of tears, known as weeping, which is considered the main component. Despite weeping being the main behaviour, it has received little focus in the crying literature, primarily, due to the difficulty in inducing weeping in a controlled environment. The overarching aim of this program of research is to investigate the role of weeping on the intraindividual and interindividual functions of crying.
In Chapter two, we reviewed the emotion induction literature and demonstrate how heart rate responses are dictated by how we induce emotions and not which emotion we induce. The results of this large review are consistent with predictions made by the intake-rejection hypothesis taken from the classic cognitive psychophysiology literature. The intake-rejection hypothesis suggests attending to external stimuli reduces heart rate, whereas, turning our attention to internal cognition, such as memory, increases heart rate. We found heart rate responses in emotion inductions were a product of attention and not affect. We suggest the primary reason for our findings is because laboratory induced emotions are mild. Moving forward, we propose developing induction procedures that will increase the intensity of emotions, this is especially important for laboratory induced weeping where intense emotions are a necessity.
In Chapters three and four, we used an idiographic induction technique to induce weeping in the laboratory. We measured multiple psychological and physiological indices including facial thermography, heart rate, respiration rate, skin conductance and subjective affect. In Chapter three, we found episodes of weeping were associated with a large increase in facial temperatures and increased negative affect compared to non-weepers. These changes were in the absence of any major cardiorespiratory or electrodermal responses. In Chapter four, we showed how the suppression of tears led to a physiological stability, whilst, weeping was again associated with large facial temperature increase. The thermal response was influenced by increased sympathetic nervous system activity and was specifically tied to weeping and not underlying affect. Overall, we found no evidence weeping led to any psychophysiological restoration.
In Chapter five, we explored the interindividual function of weeping and why tears signal sadness despite accompanying a range of both positive and negative emotions. Context is an important influence of how we perceive the emotion of others. The situational cues provided by setting a context can alter the way emotional expressions are perceived, the Kuleshov effect is a film editing technique creates meaning through the interaction of contextual scenes and actor expressions. We utilised the Kuleshov effect, to add emotional context to videos of weeping targets. We found that weeping was associated with increased attributions of both sadness and the contextual emotion. This suggests the context is having a top-down effect on the judge’s perceptions of emotions; however, this effect was present in some but not all judges.
Overall, this program of research shows not only the importance of weeping to our understanding of crying, but the importance of weeping in context. We suggest that weeping should be considered primarily as a social signal opposed to having any immediate benefit to the crier. Secondly, by using an idiographic induction technique we were able to generate strong emotions in the laboratory that may help inform the wider debates in the emotion literature.
Date of AwardSept 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPaul Morris (Supervisor) & Bridget Marguerite Waller (Supervisor)

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