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The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Cry

Heavy the sorrow that bows the head

When love is alive and hope is dead. --W. S. Gilbert, H.M.S. Pinafore

Morgan finally broke down and admitted the truth: She'd been pregnant with his baby. Shell-shocked, Ridge asked where their child was now. You could hear a pin drop as Morgan finally confessed amid broken sobs, "I had an abortion." --Bold and Beautiful (Soap Opera Digest, May 2, 2000, p. 25)



Rhythmic vocalization1. A sobbing vocal exhalation, ranging from soft-to-loud, given as a visceral response to grief, happinesssadness, or pain2. An involuntary tightening of the voice box (or larynx) and pharyngeal muscles, usually accompanied by a quivering chin, depressed lip corners, puckered brows, flared nostrils, tearing eyes, facial flushingshoulder-shrugs, and forward bowing motions of the head and torso (note the similarities to laughing).


Usage I: To cry is human (but see below, Animals). Fragments of the cry face--esp. its a. quivering chin (mentalis muscle) and b. depressed lip corners (depressor anguli oris)--suggest sadness or disappointment. (N.B.: The above muscles, which are difficult to contract at will, are exceptionally accurate indicators of mood; the slightest disappointment, e.g., shows in slightly down-turned lips. Electromyographic studies show "fairly continuous activity" in mentalis [Gray's Anatomy (1995:795], reflecting the link between the mentalis and emotion.) The first felt (i.e., afferent) sign of crying is contraction of the throat muscles.


Usage II: A happy cry averages two minutes; a sad cry, seven (Ralston 1998:99).



Animals. Trumpeting, shrill cries, and tears were exhibited by a herd of elephants as they apparently mourned the death of seven of their fellows who had been killed by a train. The accident occurred on November 15, 2001 in India's state of Assam. "'About a hundred elephants were circling the pachyderms that lay dead near the railway tracks, with tears rolling down their eyes,' said Khagen Sangmai, a top official of the Digboi police station" (Newman 2001).

Infancy. Use of the vocal cords comes shortly after birth in the act of crying. (N.B.: Crying signals that a newborn's lungs are functional, and that its umbilical cord may be severed with a knife.) A baby's rhythmic attention cry and shrieking pain cry are easily distinguished. (N.B.: The typical rising-then-falling pitch of the former resembles an ancient mammalian pattern of maintaining contact with mother by means of a separation call.)
Media1. The Italian opera most likely to bring audiences to tears is "Pagliacci," first performed in 1892. The clown character, Pagliaccio, who smiles on the outside as he cries on the inside, often wears a painted teardrop on his cheek. 2. "'Thousands of songs have been composed about tears; almost every movie worth remembering stimulates their flow,' says Jeffrey Cottler, Ph.D., professor of counseling at Texas Tech University, and author of The Language of Tears (Jossey-Bass, 1996)" (Ralston 1998:96).
Observations. Women cry five times more frequently than men (and average five crying spells a month). Women's tears also flow more than men's (which usually well up in the eyes rather than stream down the face like women's tears). The average length of a crying spell is one to two minutes. Sadness, followed by anger, sympathy, and fearare the reasons most adults give for crying.
Tears. Humans are the only animals positively known to cry emotional tears of sadness and joy, though the vocal cries, whines, and whimpers of young mammals are similarly used to solicit aid from mothers. People report feeling better after a cry, according to a study by University of Minnesota biochemist, William Frey. Frey discovered the neurotransmitters leucine-enkephalin (an endorphin or natural opiate-like substance for pain relief) and prolactin (released from the pituitary in response to emotional stress) in emotional tears; the substances were not found in tears shed in response to sliced onions. (N.B.: Tears may help the body alleviate stress and cleanse itself of toxins, as do other exocrine processes such as sweat, urine, and exhaled air.)
RESEARCH REPORTS1. The most exhaustive nonverbal research on crying is by Charles Darwin (1872; see also the comments by Paul Ekman in Darwin's volume).2. The crying complex is present in newborns as the birth cry (McGraw 1943:16). 3. In nursery school children (after attack by classmates) weeping is "usually preceded by puckering the brows and reddening of the face," followed by immobility, thumb-sucking, and rocking back and forth (Blurton Jones 1967:355-56). 4. Blind-and-deaf-born children weep in anger (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1971:12). 5. The child's cry face resembles the ape's "frustration-sadness," "whimper," and "cry" face (Chevalier-Skolnikoff 1973:80). 6. "The results [of studies of 46 !Kung San Bushman infants] support the concept that the early peak pattern [of crying] is not specific to infants in western industrialized societies, and may represent a behavior universal to the human species" (Barr 1990:608). 7. "The reflexlike links between perceiving and producing calls, and the emotional states associated with them, are made evident by the 'infectiousness' of some of our own species' innate calls, specifically laughter and crying" (Deacon 1997:236).

Neuro-notes1. Babies born without brain structures above the amphibian midbrain (i.e., anencephalic infants) can still cry. 2. A lonely infant's separation call cries deeply from the thalamocingulate division of the mammalian brain. (N.B.: The call's rising-then-falling pitch may form the basic intonation pattern of all human sentences, which normally begin on an ascending, and end on a descending, note.) 3. In the tearing (i.e., lacrimation) reflex, irritating tactile or chemical stimuli carried by the opthalmic division of the trigeminal nerve (cranial V) spread via interneuronal paleocircuits a. to parasympathetic cells (see REST-AND-DIGEST) of the superior salivatory center of the facial nerve (cranial VII), and b. to the spinal cord's superior cervical sympathetic ganglion (see FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT). Nonverbally, as anefferent cue, tearing impulses pass through parasympathetic and sympathetic fibers to stimulate secretions of the lacrimal glands. 4. In emotional tearing, feelings from higher, limbic-brain centers reach the parasympathetic nucleus of the trigeminal nerve and stimulate the lacrimal glands to release their viscous fluids. 






Vintage photo of pouting flower girl (copyright 1955, Museum of Modern Art, New York [from the Museum's classic book, The Family of Man])