Why do humans feel better after they have cried? © Getty Images

Why do humans feel better after they have cried?

Whether it’s bawling your eyes out at a film or shedding a tear over getting ketchup down your favourite t-shirt, the idea that crying is beneficial is subject to fierce debate.

Asked by: Clare Linnell, Guildford, Surrey

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 The popular idea that crying is beneficial and ‘cathartic’ is actually the subject of intense debate among emotion researchers. A study of personal diaries conducted by the University of South Florida found that people generally reported feeling down on the days before and after a good cry. Lab studies using sad films have also found that most people actually feel worse immediately after crying. However, a recent Dutch study found that a beneficial effect of crying kicks in after about 20 minutes.

The precise reasons why crying may (sometimes) be beneficial remain unknown, although there has been plenty of speculation: crying may prompt us to seek out mood-boosting activities; it could trigger physiological changes that help us to relax; and of course crying can invite love and support from others.

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