University of South Florida psychologists Jonathan Rottenberg and Lauren M. Bylsma, along with J.J.M. Vingerhoets of Tilburg University in the Netherlands find about one-third in the more than 3,000 recent crying experiences analyzed reported no improvement in mood after crying.
The study, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, linked the benefits of crying entirely to the what, where and when of the episode. Criers who received social support during their crying episode were the most likely to report improvements in mood.
The researchers studied crying that had occurred outside of the laboratory because crying in a laboratory setting often results in the study participants feeling worse. This may be due to the stressful conditions -- being videotaped or watched -- producing negative emotions that may neutralize the positive benefits usually associated with crying.
Even so, the researchers noted even the laboratory studies showed crying producing calming effects such as slower breathing that lasts longer than the unpleasant increased heart rate. This may overcome stress reactions and can account for why some people tend to remember mostly the pleasant side of crying.