Tear - Understanding Tear: A Biological and Emotional Functionality Explored - 21/Feb/2024

Tear – Understanding Tear: A Biological and Emotional Functionality Explored – 21/Feb/2024

Understanding Tear: A Biological and Emotional Functionality Explored

Tears are a multifunctional secretion with roots in both biological necessity and emotional expression. This exploration into tears will look at their composition, the different types of tears, and the various triggers that induce crying.

The Composition of Tears and the Lacrimal Apparatus

At a fundamental level, tears are made up of water, electrolytes, lipids, metabolites, and proteins. This concoction is essential for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye. The components are produced by the lacrimal system, consisting of the lacrimal glands where tears are formed, the lacrimal ducts through which tears travel, and the lacrimal punctum, where tears ultimately drain into the nasal cavity.

Types of Tears: Basal, Reflex, and Emotional

There are three distinct types of tears: basal, reflex, and emotional.

Basal Tears: The Eye’s Constant Protectorate

Basal tears are produced continuously in tiny quantities. They serve to nourish and hydrate the cornea, providing a protective layer that not only lubricates the eye surface but also defends against dust and microorganisms.

Reflex Tears: Nature’s Response to Irritants

Reflex tears occur when the eyes need to flush out irritants such as smoke, foreign bodies, or vapors from chopping onions. These tears are released in larger quantities than basal tears. Their purpose is to clear out any offensive material that might harm the eye surface or impede vision.

Emotional Tears: Crying as a Form of Expression

Emotional tears are arguably the most intriguing type. Triggered by intense feelings of sadness, happiness, or even overwhelming relief, they seem unique to humans in their complexity. Scientists note that emotional crying can have several social functions, including signaling distress or a need for comfort to others.

Triggers for Crying: An Interplay of Psychological and Physiological Factors

There can be a myriad number of triggers for crying apart from irritants and emotions. Pain, physical stress, hormonal changes—particularly common during pregnancy or menstrual cycles—and certain neurological conditions can also result in tear production.

The Therapeutic Benefits of Crying

Recent studies have uncovered potential benefits to emotional crying. While researchers do not entirely understand the biochemistry involved, it is believed that crying might release stress-related hormones from the body or activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps people relax. It also elicits social support from others which can have immediate psychological benefits.

Evolving Understanding: The Science of Crying Onwards

The scientific comprehension of tears and crying continues to evolve with ongoing research. Various disciplines—including psychology, neurology, and ophthalmology—are interested in uncovering more about why we cry and why it’s essential for our wellbeing.


  • Tears contain lysozyme, an enzyme that serves an antibacterial function.
  • Basal tearing rate is approximately 1 to 2 microliters a minute.
  • Emotional tears have been found to have a different biochemical makeup than basal or reflex tears.
  • Babies cry without tear production until they are several weeks old; their crying is purely for communication initially.
  • Darwin once claimed that emotional crying was purposeless; modern research suggests otherwise.
  • Conclusion: Shedding Tears as A Universal Human Experience

    Tears pieced together our understanding of physiological necessity and emotional expressiveness. As symbols of vulnerability and indicators of our body’s responses to the environment around us, their science bridges biology with anthropology, sociology, psychology, and beyond. A testament to their complexity and importance seems reflected in our colloquialisms often equating profound experiences or emotions—such as beauty or grief—to actions like “moved me to tears.”

    *Image description: A close-up image capturing a human eye welling up with a tear in its inner corner.*