Why 'I'm so happy I could cry' makes sense

November 11, 2014

New Haven, Conn.--The phrase "tears of joy" never made much sense to Yale psychologist Oriana Aragon. But after conducting a series of studies of such seemingly incongruous expressions, she now understands better why people cry when they are happy.

"People may be restoring emotional equilibrium with these expressions," said Aragon, lead author of work to be published in the journal Psychological Science. "They seem to take place when people are overwhelmed with strong positive emotions, and people who do this seem to recover better from those strong emotions."

There are many examples of responding to a positive experience with a negative emotion. A crying spouse is reunited with a soldier returning from war. Teen girls scream at a Justin Bieber concert and so do soccer players as they score a winning goal. The baseball player who hits a winning home run is pounded at home plate by teammates. And when introduced to babies "too cute for words," some can't resist pinching their cheeks.

"I was surprised no one ever asked why that is," she said.

Aragon and her colleagues at Yale ran subjects through some of these scenarios and measured their responses to cute babies or happy reunions. They found that individuals who express negative reactions to positive news were able to moderate intense emotions more quickly. They also found people who are most likely to cry at their child's graduation are most likely to want to pinch a cute baby's cheeks.

There is also some evidence that strong negative feelings may provoke positive expressions; for example nervous laughter appears when people are confronted with a difficult or frightening situations, and smiles have been found by other psychologists to occur during extreme sadness.

These new discoveries begin to explain common things that many people do but don't even understand themselves, Aragon said.

"These insights advance our understanding of how people express and control their emotions, which is importantly related to mental and physical health, the quality of relationships with others, and even how well people work together," she said.
-end-
Margaret S. Clark, Rebecca L. Dyer and John A. Bargh of Yale are co-authors.

Yale University

Related Emotions Articles from Brightsurf:

Why are memories attached to emotions so strong?
Multiple neurons in the brain must fire in synchrony to create persistent memories tied to intense emotions, new research from Columbia neuroscientists has found.

The relationship between looking/listening and human emotions
Toyohashi University of Technology has indicated that the relationship between attentional states in response to pictures and sounds and the emotions elicited by them may be different in visual perception and auditory perception.

Multitasking in the workplace can lead to negative emotions
From writing papers to answering emails, it's common for office workers to juggle multiple tasks at once.

Do ER caregivers' on-the-job emotions affect patient care?
Doctors and nurses in emergency departments at four academic centers and four community hospitals in the Northeast reported a wide range of emotions triggered by patients, hospital resources and societal factors, according to a qualitative study led by a University of Massachusetts Amherst social psychologist.

The 'place' of emotions
The entire set of our emotions is mapped in a small region of the brain, a 3 centimeters area of the cortex, according to a study conducted at the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy.

Faking emotions at work does more harm than good
Faking your emotions at work to appear more positive likely does more harm than good, according to a University of Arizona researcher.

Students do better in school when they can understand, manage emotions
Students who are better able to understand and manage their emotions effectively, a skill known as emotional intelligence, do better at school than their less skilled peers, as measured by grades and standardized test scores, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

How people want to feel determines whether others can influence their emotions
New Stanford research on emotions shows that people's motivations are a driving factor behind how much they allow others to influence their feelings, such as anger.

Moral emotions, a diagnotic tool for frontotemporal dementia?
A study conducted by Marc Teichmann and Carole Azuar at the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris (France) and at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital shows a particularly marked impairment of moral emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

Emotions from touch
Touching different types of surfaces may incur certain emotions. This was the conclusion made by the psychologists from the Higher School of Economics in a recent empirical study.

Read More: Emotions News and Emotions Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.