By K. Rosman in WSJ: You first feel your bottom lip tremble as your work is critiqued in a meeting. Or maybe it's a clenching of your jaw. Or perhaps there is no warning at all. One moment you're composed and the next … waterworks.
We can alter the shapes of our bodies, slow the signs of aging and learn to control our heart rates. Yet we're often powerless when it comes to crying.
Some new research efforts are helping to piece together the biological and cultural forces behind crying, showing that there are different types of tears as well as differences in the way men and women cry.
Women are biologically wired to shed tears more than men. Under a microscope, cells of female tear glands look different than men's. Also, the male tear duct is larger than the female's, so if a man and a woman both tear up, the woman's tears will spill onto her cheeks quicker. "For men and their ducts, it'd be like having a big fat pipe to drain in a rainstorm," says Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Social conditioning comes into play in restraining the impulse to cry, Dr. Brizendine says. When we experience physical pain or emotional sadness or frustration, the brain's amygdala, which is part of the limbic system or "emotional brain," fires up signals. If the stimulus is great enough, the energy can travel from the emotional area into the frontal motor strip. That's when breathing can devolve into sobbing.
Boys often come up with mechanisms to calm themselves before they cross the precipice from tearing up to weeping. "Boys are taught over and over again not to cry: to scrunch their faces, to think about the Gettysburg address, to distract themselves," says Dr. Brizendine, the author of the best-selling book, "The Female Brain."
Research indicates that testosterone helps raise the threshold between emotional stimulus and the shedding of tears. "It helps put the brakes on," she says.
To teach acting students to cry at the New York Film Academy, Glenn Kalison reminds them to consider that since they were babies, they have been building barriers to prevent themselves from crying. The trick is to imagine...http://on.wsj.com/laHwu4