crying is culturally determined

Dutch professor Ad Vingerhoets researched crying, and came to the conclusion that crying is culturally determined.
Whining, sobbing, moaning. We all cry differently, but why? Dutch professor Ad Vingerhoets, a psychologist at Tilburg University and an expert on emotions, consulted 5,500 people in 37 countries, from Iceland to Australia, from Chile to Nepal and from Kenya to Japan. His conclusion is that differences in crying are cultural.

"Eighty percent of the time, we cry at home," says Vingerhoets, "no matter if it's an igloo, a hut or a chalet. But cultural differences are more pronounced in public spaces, where unwritten rules are often observed.
"With tears," the expert adds, "we ask to be protected, we seek to create a social bond or to placate a threat or aggression, or we show emotion in rituals such as a marriage or a funeral."

Impressing God

Vingerhoets mentions an old Spanish tradition: a procession of people crying to prevent drought. "The link between crying and drought can also be found among the ancient Aztecs," he explains, "in spring, they made offerings of children who had to produce many tears to prevent drought. In Tunisia, rituals are still celebrated to combat drought by stimulating children to cry: "The little ones are separated from their parents or they are put a rope around their necks. Once they start crying, the adults imitate them, with the intention that the children's tears will impress God.

That women cry more than men was something we already knew, but the Dutch psychologist also discovered cultural differences. "In more emancipated countries, women cry more than in less emancipated countries," he says. In his opinion, women in the former feel more social pressure.

Cold countries

Cultural factors
Cultural factors

Cultural differences go even further: contrary to what one might believe, people cry more in cold-climate countries than in warm ones. "We tended to believe that people cried more in countries known for their emotionalism, such as Italy or Spain. But no, more tears are shed in countries like Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The Netherlands also makes an important contribution," says Vingerhoets.
Freedom of expression seems to be a determining factor in the frequency of crying. But this can also be explained in reverse, because in cultures where there is great freedom to cry, people are happier and more prosperous.

No crying allowed

There are also villages where crying is forbidden. In the Toraja tribe in Indonesia, adults are not allowed to cry audibly, except at funerals. Women are also allowed to sob when they cannot get pregnant. Together with other women, they may do so at a rock where spirits live that could cure them of their infertility.
In Turkey there is much weeping at funerals, but it is forbidden at the time of burial. Among the Maori in New Zealand, crying is proof of how sorry you are that someone has died, and merely expressing it in words is considered rude. In Nepal, crying in public is taboo, and sad melodies are sung as an alternative.


Dutch doctors in Afghanistan have found that people there cry much less than in the West. For the doctors, this is a complicated phenomenon, because crying is a sign of the patient's pain, and since they do not shed tears, it is not easy to tell whether they need painkillers.
In Ethiopia, male students burst into laughter watching a documentary in which a Dutchman who is told he has advanced cancer bursts into tears. The Ethiopians did not seem to understand the Dutch patient's reaction, and thought he was exaggerating, because "a man doesn't do that".

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