When It Comes to Crying, Men Are From Mars
Sept. 26, 2000 -- If the man in your life isn't prone to a "good cry" every now and then, don't necessarily assume he's emotionally challenged; he just has different reasons for crying than you do, according to a report at a recent meeting of the British Psychological Society. Researchers from the land of the stiff upper lip say, though, that men and women both feel better after crying, especially when experiencing a major loss.
"But men are more likely to cry as a result of positive feelings, like at sporting events, whereas women are more likely to cry as a result of negative feelings, like in personal conflicts," says study author Moira Maguire, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at England's University of Luton. "Women also tend to feel more emotions when they cry, particularly anger, frustration, fear, self-pity, and powerlessness," she tells WebMD.
To learn more about sex differences, the researchers surveyed over 80 adults about their most recent crying experience. Most participants felt better afterward, but women were more likely than men to feel worse. Women were also more likely to stop crying after being comforted, leading the authors to conclude that crying may be an important way of mobilizing social support.
These sex differences are largely due to socialization, Maguire says. "Male and female babies cry about the same amount, yet there are strong sex differences by adolescence in many Western countries. So adult crying behavior is mostly a learned response."
In fact, kids often adopt the crying behavior of their same-sex parent, according to developmental psychologist Carolyn Saarni, PhD, a professor at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif.
"But when it comes to tears, boys may have more sex role socialization pressure than girls," she tells WebMD.
Yet crying is an important part of child development, Saarni says. "When parents respond to crying in a caring manner, children begin to learn some important coping skills. That's why it's not a good idea to tease kids about crying. Besides, teasing doesn't solve the problem behind the tears."
But what about kids who cry for attention? "You still have to ask, 'Why does this child need more
of my attention?,' realizing that attention-seeking behavior is much more common in toddlers than school-age children," Saarni says.
Parents often have to walk the fine line between not encouraging their kids to cry, while letting them feel safe and secure when they do. "Let kids know that it's OK to cry while experiencing a loss, rejection, or injury, but not in front of their peer group if possible. Children can be mean about what they see as weakness, so holding back tears in front of friends probably isn't a bad idea," Saarni says.
Still, shedding a few tears may have a cathartic value. "Once kids have had a good cry, they're usually able to move on from a distressing situation, especially when listened to and comforted by mom and dad," Saarni says. She mentions a few things parents might want remember:
- Take crying seriously, especially with older children.
- Pay particular attention to crying that has no apparent reason.
- Get help for uncontrolled crying, particularly in teenage girls.