North America's Premier Network
of Private Practice Optometrists

Join Us

The Science And Psychology Behind Our Tears

Tears may be triggered by an exhausting day, a joke, a sweet emotion, or as a means for protecting and cleaning our eyes.

Photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher examined the micro-makeup of human tears in her project The Typography of Tears. The photographs below show in microscopic detail the differences between tears prompted by a windy day, and tears of laughter.

Reflexive Tears Protect And Clean

There are three different kinds of tears; basal, reflexive, and emotional. Both basal and reflexive tears serve to protect and clean our eyes as we go about our day. They contain water, mucous, protein, and oil to flush out irritants and form a protective layer around our eyeballs.

Emotional Tears Are Different

Thanks to reflexive tears, emotional tears don’t need to clean or protect our eyes. So what’s the point of smearing your mascara over a sentimental commercial like this one?

The most likely reason for emotional tears is a social signal. We learn as infants that it's how we get our parents' attention. As we grow, it can strengthen relationships and group bonds. However, studies have found that emotional tears include additional elements not present in basal or reflexive tears; namely, endorphins and hormones which regulate your mood and manage stress in the body. Tears may literally be a physical release for our emotions.

Our Eyes Are Amazing!

The dried tears in Ms. Fisher’s photographs might also be different-looking due to drying time and other elemental factors. However, the fact remains that tears are a perfect example of the beauty and function of our eyes. Here at Vision Source, we appreciate the opportunity to protect and preserve your precious vision! If you’d like to find a practice near you, you can use our search tool. 

Top image by Flickr user MarLeah Cole used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.

Author Vision Source — Published April 15, 2015