Researchers at the University of Queensland tested their hypothesis on the benefits of crying by asking 197 female undergraduate students to watch either “a sad or neutral condition using short videos.”
“We predicted that compared to those who did not cry to the stimuli and those who were exposed to neutral videos, people who cried would (a) be able to withstand a stressful task for longer; (b) show lower levels of cortisol following crying and exposure to the stressor; and (c) have faster recovery,” the researchers wrote in the study.
After watching the sad or neutral videos for 17 minutes, the participants were asked to perform the Cold Pressor Stress Test, which consists of placing their hands in cold water while changes in their blood pressure are measured.
Throughout the study, the participants’ heart rates and respiration levels were also recorded and cortisol levels from salivary samples were measured four times throughout testing.
The study found that those who cried had stable breathing rates during the Cold Pressor Stress Test. Conversely, non-criers in the neutral and sad groups had increased respiration and heart rates during the stress test.
“Respiration rate, however, increased in the neutral group and non-criers while watching the videos, with criers' respiration remaining stable,” the study notes.
“These results suggest that crying may assist in generally maintaining biological homeostasis, perhaps consciously through self-soothing via purposeful breathing and unconsciously through regulation of heart rate,” the study concludes.