Why does laughter bring tears to the eyes?

Crying is an inevitable part of the human emotional package, whether you like it or not. Women tend to be better at it than men, with the women having an estimated 50 cries per year, while men only have 10 annually.

Of course, we know that crying usually elicits from sadness and other negative emotions. But, have you ever seen yourself or noticed someone laughing into tears? It is quite ironic as laughter is an expression of gladness. So, why does it bring to the eyes? While the exact reason has not been pointed down, scientists have different theories about why it happens.

First, experts believed that emotional reactions induce specific physical reactions. These apparently strange body responses, such as nervous laughter, tears when laughing, etc. are regarded as dimorphous expressions or adverse reactions towards positive experiences. Such responses happen as the body attempts returning to its normal level of functioning from such extreme emotions. Thus, we cry when we laugh as the body tries to regulate itself.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that crying and laughing are controlled by the same part of the human brain. A syndrome regarded as Pathological Laughter and Crying causes patients to have unruly upsurges of both expressions. Individuals who have PLC have damage or lesion found in the motor regions of their cerebral cortex. In turn, the impairment ‘travels’ up to the typical area for crying and laughing, eliciting the irrational responses.

Other experts suggest that people cry when they laugh because too much pressure builds up around the tear ducts. That happens when there is an immense body shaking due to a wild laugh. Tears produced from this scenario are called reflex tears, as they are brought by external factors, such as a strong breeze, the odor of sliced fresh onion, or other irritants.

Reflex tears are a whole lot different from emotional tears humans produce when experiencing anxiety or sadness. The latter tend to have a different chemical composition than the former. Tears produced through strong emotions have more hormone, such as leucine enkephalin, which is a natural painkiller.

Generally, crying and laughing are similar responses to a mental standpoint. Both expressions elicit when there is a state of intense emotional arousal. They produce lasting effects, which don’t smoothly shut down on and off. Tears can be prompted by sadness, pain, anxiety, and also intense gladness. Nevertheless, both do good things for you. But why?

Well, it boils down to two hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol. Adrenaline is a stress hormone released from the adrenal gland. What it does is boost the force of your heart’s contractions, make it beat faster, and opens up the bronchioles and airway of your lungs. Meanwhile, cortisol is another hormone that regulates an array of processes in the body, such as immune and metabolic responses, and also helps the system respond to stress.

Given that adrenaline and cortisol are beneficial in handling stress makes crying when laughing good for you. Regardless of whether you are crying, laughing, or doing both at the same time, both expressions relieve stress and produce a good feeling after.

So, if you see yourself or someone with tears rolling on the face when they are in stitches, you are aware that there are no issues in their eyes and functioning normally.

More Readings:

Tears (Wikipedia)

Lacrimal gland (Wikipedia)

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