An experiment showed that tears appear to be a chemical defense mechanism against aggression

Smelling a woman’s tears seems to have a tangible effect on men, and they are likely to behave differently as a result.

Joost van Egmond

It makes intuitive sense: If someone else starts crying, you’re more inclined to be kind. But can this be proven, and if so, how does it work? Researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Israel have found a way to shed light on this.

Previous studies have shown that rodents take full advantage of social chemical cues: they secrete substances that trigger a chemical reaction in the brains of others, leading to different behavior. For example, blind mice roll through their tears to lighten the mood of dominant males.

But there are good reasons not to expect this to work in the same way in other mammals like us. “Rodents have a highly developed vomeronasal organ,” explains behavioral biologist Tom Roth of the Universities of Leiden and Utrecht. “For us, this is not the case. Smell for rodents, as for us, is sight.

It is already known in humans that men produce less testosterone when they smell women’s tears. Given what we know about testosterone, it wasn’t far-fetched to suspect a link to aggression. Is it true that smelling tears actually reduces aggression?

“Recover” the opponent or not?

To achieve this, a number of men had to play a game, the researchers explained in their article in the scientific journal PLoS Biology. It was against a pre-programmed computer, but they were told it was another man. They were given a stress ball in each hand and had to squeeze it at specific times. In ten seconds, they can earn about 60 cents on a euro.

However, at certain times the “opponent” can choose to steal a portion of the proceeds and add them to his or her own balance, and the computer did just that. The guinea pigs were able to get revenge in the next round. They had the option of hitting only one of the two balls, which could cause the opponent to lose money. It was of no use to them, as they did not receive this money themselves. Pure aggression, in which the motive of self-interest has been excluded.

A tear set something in motion

Then it was a matter of inhaling while they played the game. Participants can have real tears under their noses or saline solution. To confirm this, it was dripped onto the cheeks of tear donors to check whether contact with the cheek would have any chemical effect. The materials were tested as odorless by all test subjects. The difference in behavior between the two was very strong: after inhaling tears, the test participants showed no less than 43.7% aggressive behavior towards their opponent.

To find out what happened in the brain, the experiment was repeated again, but this time using an MRI scanner that monitors the brain activity of the test subjects. After smelling tears, there was a decrease in brain activity mainly in a few areas, including two areas that have previously been linked to aggressive behavior. In addition, they tested in a test tube what happened when they added tears to a number of known olfactory receptors in the human nose. In four of them they found a clear effect: the tear moved something, but with the saline solution this did not happen.

Chemical protection blanket

The researchers concluded that together, these indicators are strong indicators that tearing a woman through a man’s nose triggers a chemical process. A process that manifests itself in less aggressive behavior. They talk about chemical protection blanket.

But this is certainly not the last word on the effect of tears on others, as the researchers themselves admit. For example, no matter how clearly brain activity was reduced on scan due to tearing, the very strong attenuating effect on aggression was not replicated on MRI testing. This is a problem and requires new experiments to see if the first result can be verified. The researchers are also looking to conduct the trial on women. This will cost donors many tears.

Moreover, Roth says, this research opens the door to several questions: Only emotional tears have been tested so far in women, but how does that work with tears caused by wind, for example, or with tears in men? Is it possible that such an effect also occurs with other secretions, such as sweat?

How to collect tears

The researchers call it “too complex” to collect the “stimulus” used in this study. After a long search, they found it Six young women were quickly transferred They were willing to cooperate. They had to take birth control pills to prevent their menstrual cycle from affecting their body odor. With each donation, they were checked for problems that could cause tear abnormalities, such as what they ate. Of course, wearing makeup before and during donation was out of the question.

Then they looked The film fragments are pathetic They sat in front of the mirror with an ampoule under their eyes to catch the tears. They’ve done this together nearly a hundred times. The average donation yielded 1.6 milliliters of the precious material. It was all like a full cup of coffee. This was frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored at minus 80 degrees until it was placed under the male participant’s nose.

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