Crying through the ages : a developmental perspective on why adolescents cry

2017-03-02T00:35:22Z (GMT) by Fraser, Maxwell James Oliver Barnett
The phenomenon of crying is of great interest to the non-scientific community and is implicated in very common and debilitating clinical disorders such as major depressive disorder and dysthymia (Rottenberg, Cevall & Vingerhoets, 2008). Several conceptualizations of crying have been proposed that include considering it a cathartic release of negative emotions (Rottenberg, Bylsma, & Vingerhoets, 2008), a core attachment behaviour (Bell & Ainsworth, 1972; Judith K Nelson, 1998) or a bi-product of cognitive processes (Labott & Martin, 1988; Miceli & Castelfranchi, 2003). In addition to the disparate and sometimes conflicting orientations of these conceptualizations, they each lack sufficient empirical support. Adolescence is a period of great emotional and cognitive changes and the stage in human life in which individual identity (Cooper, Grotevant & Condon, 1983) and independence begin to be formed. To date, very little research has explored crying behaviour in this developmental period despite such investigations holding great promise for improving understanding of the mechanisms behind crying. The proposed course of research aims to address these gaps by operationalizing and evaluating proposed conceptualizations of crying while providing important data on crying behaviour in adolescence. The first study examined crying proneness in children and adolescents utilising a sample of 773 females and 623 males aged between 9 and 16 years. The key finding from this study was the significant difference in crying behaviour between children aged 9 or 10 and adolescents aged 11 or older. Of note, a sex difference in crying proneness was only evident in participants aged 11 years and older. The second, third, and fourth data papers utilised a novel diary of crying behaviour that adolescent males and females completed on a daily basis. The papers shared a sample of 215 crying episodes collected from 42 adolescents (69% female) aged between 12 and 18. In addition to providing detailed data on frequency and context of crying episodes in an adolescent sample, the diary allowed for an in-depth examination of individual crying episodes. Specifically, this study across three papers provided data on the relationship between emotions and crying, differences between males and females in their crying frequency, the emotional drivers of crying proneness, and the emotions driving adolescents to try not to cry. Using these data, these papers present an empirical evaluation of the role of catharsis and attachment in adolescent crying, and a factor analysis was used to develop a typology of crying. Taken together, these three papers provide vital information as to how crying develops from infancy, at which point it is primarily a communication strategy to gain caregiver attention, to become the complex and multifaceted behaviour of adulthood. This research demonstrates the utility of the daily diary as a format for gathering information on infrequent, contained events and the difficulty of hindsight bias. The results of the two studies and four papers generate a basis for understanding crying through a developmental lens and provide a starting point for developing empirically based conceptualizations that are targeted at particular types of crying.