Let’s have a mature, adult conversation for a moment. I understand that there are lots of things in the world that turn people on in a sensual sort of way. People get aroused by the strangest things, stuff that when you hear about it you think you’re being lied to. But women’s teardrops are not such a fetish, at least not among the men in a recent study.
Shani Gelstein and colleagues report in the journal Science that human tears not only fail to arouse male test subjects, but the smell of tears actually decreases arousal. The researchers had men sniff two womens’ “negative-emotion-related” tears, which were induced by having the women watch sad movies all alone 😦
Apparently, most men will think a woman in a picture is less hott (see Tanya Harding, right), when he has just smelled the human female tears that soak the cloth taped to his lip. Having now considered it, I suppose having tears taped under my nose would probably not be an expeditious way to arouse me, either. I shudder at the thought of the man who finds a vial of tears the choice aphrodisiac.
What’s more, when the male test subjects smelled plain, unadultered saline solution (as a control) they were less likely to think, “Buzz, your girlfriend – wuff!’ but were more amenable think damngrrrl. Testosterone levels also declined after tear treatment, as did sex-related brain activity. Which I figure is synonymous with death for a man. Apparently human female tears send a chemical signal that males receive and it keeps their minds from contemplating ribald grabassery.
So why do humans cry when we get sad? Are tears mere spandrels in the sense of Gould and Lewontin (1979), or do they really serve some adaptive purpose for us? I figured it was so other people could more easily detect if we were upset and thereby take advantage of our weakness. But Gelstein and her crew of tear harvesters make a pretty compelling case for some kind of chemical signal. After all, the men never saw pictures of women crying – the women just stared off plain-faced – what differed was males’ olfactory exposure to the salty milk of female sadness.
Another question they raise is an interesting one – do all tears make people find others sexually unappetizing? Would women react the same way to man-tears, how would children react to their grandparents’ tears? Or what about our tears from crying because of the ‘e pluribus anus‘ flag on Community? Is sexual de-arousal even the selected purpose of tears in the first place?
Needless to say, I’m concerned about our tears. But I’m not gonna cry about it, because it might make others think I’m not sexy. Which would be outrageous.
Gelstein S, Yeshurun Y, Rozenkrantz L, Shushan S, Frumin I, Roth Y, & Sobel N (2011). Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal. Science (New York, N.Y.) PMID: 21212322
Gould, S., & Lewontin, R. (1979). The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 205 (1161), 581-598 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.1979.0086