Sunday, 29 August 2010

A new monkey fable: Feel like crying? – Thank evolution, it’s good for us

These reptiles will hardly cry of sorrow.

Joel Kontinen

Evolutionists have often pondered over the origin of laughter. However, they have not focused much on crying though they have attempted to find out why we cry.

Only humans are known to cry for emotional reasons.

Tears have an important function in keeping our eyes moist. Scientists who believe in Darwinian evolution have nevertheless wanted to associate crying with natural selection that would not have preserved this ability if it had not been beneficial to humans as a species.

Jesse Bering, a psychologist at the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Belfast University believes that ”those of our early ancestors who were most empathic probably thrived” since they were able to build strong communities in which crying could have been a powerful weapon. Crying signals both empathy and guilt and can according to Bering be a mechanism produced by evolution that helped to preserve strong social bonds.

Randy Cornelius, a psychologist at Vassar College, thinks that tears originated as an intraspecies communication method. ”There'd be a selection pressure to develop a signaling system that wouldn't let predators in on the fact that you're vulnerable," he says.

These kinds of stories do not have anything to do with empirical science and cannot be tested or falsified. They are nevertheless part and parcel of the Darwinian worldview in which storytelling plays a major role.


Aubrey, Allison. 2010. Teary-Eyed Evolution: Crying Serves A Purpose. NPR. (23 August).