How Good Is That “Good Cry”?

Researchers say tears aren’t as therapeutic as we think

“Go ahead and have a good cry,” we like to tell our daughters and friends, assuming that tears are somehow inherently cleansing—that as they splash down our faces, they wash away our grief and unhappiness. Um. Science says not so much. A research team led by Lauren M. Bylsma of the University of Southern Florida had 97 women keep “crying diaries” that tracked their episodes of tears as well as changes in mood for between 40 and 73 days. In all, the researchers examined 1,004 crying jags; nearly all the women studied cried at least once.

The researchers’ conclusions? Crying didn’t have much positive effect on subjects’ moods at all. In fact, criers tended to be unhappy for two days before episodes of tears as well as the day of crying and two days afterward. The harder subjects cried, the more their moods elevated—but the same correlation wasn’t observed if they cried longer rather than harder. And they felt better if they cried while with one person rather than while alone or with a larger group.

There are no plans for similar studies on men, because … well, you know why.