Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weeping Women

When women cry in works of literature, what are the men's reactions? Do the women become less sexually appealing to the men witnessing them cry? Do the men lose sexual arousal? Do they soften their behaviors, consistent with a drop in testosterone? Well, recent research shows that that's what's supposed to happen, due to the presence of a chemosignal in tears. More than that,

in Western culture, exposure to tears is usually in close proximity. We hug a crying loved one, often placing our nose near teary cheeks, typically generating a pronounced nasal inhalation as we embrace. Such typical behavior entails exposure equal to or greater than that experienced here [in the experimental proceedures], hence the effects we observed in the laboratory are elevant to human behavior. (Gelstein, Shani, et al. "Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal" Science. 14 Jan 2011. Vol. 331. pg 230)
The authors only investigated adult women's tears, so they do not know if the same effects occur with men and/or children.

Certainly this chemical is not an absolute determinant of behavior, nor does it necessarily mean all men will react the same way to (all) women's tears. However, as a pretty strongly correlated norm, this does suggest that one should look for such behaviors in works of literature -- and at deviations from this norm. And what, if any, cultural differences are there in reactions to crying? If there are such differences, they should show up in the literature. And if there are cultural differences, what kinds of intercultural conflicts might arise that literature could potentially (or perhaps already) deal with? And if there are works that do already deal with such conflicts, have they been noted?

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