In addition, girls are more inclined to cry (and see more situations as a reason to cry), which is related to their experience that crying leads to more emotional discharge. These are the findings of research conducted by Dr Francine Jellesma of the University of Amsterdam and Prof. Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University. The findings were recently published in the scientific journal Sex Roles.
The research was conducted among 186 children from the senior years of four primary schools in Amsterdam, IJmuiden and Mijdrecht. The researchers made use of an existing instrument for adults, the Adult Crying Inventory, for this age group. In addition, existing questionnaires for children were used. The children were asked about their 'crying frequency’ (how often they had cried in the last four weeks),' crying proneness' (why they have cried), ‘physical catharsis’ and ‘emotional catharsis’ (whether they felt better after having cried), ‘support for feelings’ (if they told others how they felt about a problem), ‘sadness’ (the extent to which they felt sad and anxious), and ‘somatic complaints’ (e.g. fatigue, headaches).
The researchers found a positive relationship between feeling sad, physical complaints and seeking support on the one hand, and ‘crying frequency’ and ‘crying proneness' on the other hand. Physical catharsis did not appear to influence crying, and emotional catharsis only affected the tendency to cry and not the frequency.
Jellesma and Vingerhoets’ research seems to suggest that is actually the social factors, such as the reactions of others to crying and role models in their immediate vicinity, which play an important role in the development of this gender difference, much more than a purely biological (e.g. hormonal) effect. It was previously believed that the gender difference in terms of crying only occurred in puberty as a result of hormonal changes.
A lot of research has been conducted into crying in babies and adults. However, crying in infancy - at primary school age - has attracted much less scientific attention. The findings of Jellesma and Vingerhoets indicate that childhood is definitely an interesting period to observe. The researchers already encountered this gender difference in group 6 (9-10 years of age), which would seem to argue in favour of paying more attention to socio-emotional factors, in addition to biological differences. will Jellesma and Vingerhoets will focus on crying in infant in future research.
F.C. Jellesma & A.J. Vingerhoets: ‘Crying in Middle Childhood: A Report on Gender Differences', in: Sex Roles, October 2012, Volume 67, Issue 7-8.