Well-crafted films are designed to captivate and deeply engage us. They transport us into the world of their characters, allowing us to see through their eyes, feel what they feel, and even fully identify with a character in some instances. We know these movies are fiction, yet we become so engrossed that we respond emotionally as if they were real (
Some films are based on true events, which adds to their emotional impact. Certain movies are especially adept at eliciting strong emotional reactions; they’re called tearjerkers for a reason.
The “love hormone,” oxytocin, comes into play here. Neuroscientist Paul Zak’s research has shown that watching compelling stories can lead to the release of oxytocin.
While oxytocin is primarily known for its role in childbirth and breastfeeding, facilitating contractions during labor and stimulating milk production, it is also released in response to positive physical contact such as hugs, kisses, intimacy, and even petting animals, as well as through positive social interactions.
Because we are social creatures, our survival hinges on social bonding, and oxytocin plays a crucial role. It helps us recognize and form attachments with our primary caregivers and protective social groups.
Recent research, as explained by neuroscientist Robert Froemke, indicates that oxytocin has an even broader impact, acting as a “volume dial” that amplifies brain activity related to a person’s current experiences.
So, while oxytocin is biologically targeted at fostering strong social bonds, it also heightens emotional responses.
Experiencing Vicarious Social Experience
When you cry during a movie, it signifies that oxytocin has been activated due to the connections you feel through vicarious social experiences. Your attention is captured, and the movie’s story evokes emotions.
Oxytocin becomes associated with elevated feelings of empathy and compassion, further intensifying the sense of social connectedness, and you become even more attuned to the social cues of the movie’s characters. This explains the sudden emotional outpouring.
Empathy is a demonstration of strength and a crucial component of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence encompasses the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions, as well as understand and navigate the emotions of others.
According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, empathy is one of five key characteristics of emotional intelligence, along with self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and social skills.
High emotional intelligence is linked to effective leadership, professional success, and academic achievement, as well as healthier social and intimate relationships. It is associated with psychological and physical well-being and greater emotional intelligence aids in coping with stress and conflicts.
Crying in response to a movie indicates a high level of empathy, social awareness, and connection – all integral components of emotional intelligence. Therefore, it is a sign of personal strength rather than weakness.
Sobbing openly can be seen as a particular demonstration of strength, as it signifies that a person is unafraid to display their emotional reaction to others.
Crying is not an indication of weakness. The perception of crying in movies as a sign of emotional vulnerability may stem from the stereotype associating crying, especially in response to the suffering of others, with femininity.
However, there is nothing weak about displaying your emotional intelligence. Emotional crying is a uniquely human behavior. Well-crafted films immerse us in alternate realities, provoking intense emotions and triggering biological processes in our brains.
Being suddenly overcome with tears reflects a strong empathetic response. So go ahead, let your emotions flow, and take pride in your emotional intelligence – and perhaps, seek out tearjerker movies to observe the emotional reactions of your friends.
In shedding tears for the stories, we witness on screen, we show our humanity and demonstrate the depth of our emotional intelligence.
- Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React: The Neuroscience of Narrative – (https:www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445577/)