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Study Uncovers Why Happiness can Trigger Tears

Update Date: Nov 29, 2014 09:41 AM EST

Tears are typically brought on by intense emotions, whether the situation is sad or happy. In a new study, researchers examined how extreme happiness can lead to crying. They found that people who felt intense emotions tended to feel overwhelmed, which can then lead to crying.

For this study, the team examined "dimorphous expressions," which is defined as experiencing one strong emotion while exhibiting two expressions. For example, people might feel extreme happiness and start to laugh and cry. They asked volunteers to report their emotions after looking at pictures of babies. Half of these pictures were modified so that the babies had rounder faces and larger eyes.

The exaggerated features, which were supposed to cause "cuteness overload," worked. Participants who looked at the pictures of modified babies reported the strongest emotions. These participants stated that they felt happy to the point where the emotion became overwhelming.

These participants were also more likely to pick aggressive expressions, such as wanting to pinch the baby's cheeks. However, they had a better ability at regulating those intense emotions than the participants who did not choose aggressive expressions.

"People who peaked really high after seeing the babies actually got back down better from the experience," lead study author Oriana Aragón, PhD, a psychologist at Yale University, said according to TIME.

In addition, people who reported intense feelings were more likely to self-report that they tend to cry during happy events, such as reuniting with a loved one. The researchers concluded that tears are a form of expression that can be normal for many people.

The study was published in the journal, Psychological Science.

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