Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists Discover: A Chemical Signal in Human Tears

07.01.2011
Weizmann Institute researchers have uncovered the presence of a chemical signal in emotional tears.

Emotional crying is a universal, uniquely human behavior. When we cry, we clearly send all sorts of emotional signals. In a paper published online today in Science Express, scientists at the Weizmann Institute have demonstrated that some of these signals are chemically encoded in the tears themselves. Specifically, they found that merely sniffing a woman’s tears – even when the crying woman is not present -- reduces sexual arousal in men.

Humans, like most animals, expel various compounds in body fluids that give off subtle messages to other members of the species. A number of studies in recent years, for instance, have found that substances in human sweat can carry a surprising range of emotional and other signals to those who smell them.

But tears are odorless. In fact, in a first experiment led by Shani Gelstein, Yaara Yeshurun and their colleagues in the lab of Prof. Noam Sobel in the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, the researchers first obtained emotional tears from female volunteers watching sad movies in a secluded room and then tested whether men could discriminate the smell of these tears from that of saline. The men could not.

In a second experiment, male volunteers sniffed either tears or a control saline solution, and then had these applied under their nostrils on a pad while they made various judgments regarding images of women's faces on a computer screen. The next day, the test was repeated -- the men who were previously exposed to tears getting saline and vice versa. The tests were double blinded, meaning neither the men nor the researchers performing the trials knew what was on the pads. The researchers found that sniffing tears did not influence the men's estimates of sadness or empathy expressed in the faces. To their surprise, however, sniffing tears negatively affected the sex appeal attributed to the faces.

To further explore the finding, male volunteers watched emotional movies after similarly sniffing tears or saline. Throughout the movies, participants were asked to provide self-ratings of mood as they were being monitored for such physiological measures of arousal as skin temperature, heart rate, etc. Self-ratings showed that the subjects’ emotional responses to sad movies were no more negative when exposed to women’s tears, and the men “smelling” tears showed no more empathy. They did, however, rate their sexual arousal a bit lower. The physiological measures, however, told a clearer story. These revealed a pronounced tear-induced drop in physiological measures of arousal, including a significant dip in testosterone – a hormone related to sexual arousal.

Finally, in a fourth trial, Sobel and his team repeated the previous experiment within an fMRI machine that allowed them to measure brain activity. The scans revealed a significant reduction in activity levels in brain areas associated with sexual arousal after the subjects had sniffed tears.

Sobel: “This study raises many interesting questions. What is the chemical involved? Do different kinds of emotional situations send different tear-encoded signals? Are women’s tears different from, say, men's tears? Children’s tears? This study reinforces the idea that human chemical signals – even ones we’re not conscious of – affect the behavior of others.”

Human emotional crying was especially puzzling to Charles Darwin, who identified functional antecedents to most emotional displays -- for example, the tightening of the mouth in disgust, which he thought originated as a response to tasting spoiled food. But the original purpose of emotional tears eluded him. The current study has offered an answer to this riddle: Tears may serve as a chemosignal. Sobel points out that some rodent tears are known to contain such chemical signals. "The uniquely human behavior of emotional tearing may not be so uniquely human after all,” he says.

The work was authored by Shani Gelstein, Yaara Yeshurun, Liron Rozenkrantz, Sagit Shushan, Idan Frumin, Yehudah Roth and Noam Sobel, was conducted in collaboration with the Edith Wolfson Medical Center, Holon.

Prof. Noam Sobel’s research is supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Scholar in Understanding Human Cognition Program; the Minerva Foundation; the European Research Council; and Regina Wachter, NY.

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the Institute is home to 2,600 scientists, students, technicians and supporting staff. Institute research efforts include the search for new ways of fighting disease and hunger, examining leading questions in mathematics and computer science, probing the physics of matter and the universe, creating novel materials and developing new strategies for protecting the environment.

Weizmann Institute news releases are posted on the World Wide Web at http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il, and are also available at http://www.eurekalert.org.

Yivsam Azgad | idw
Further information:
http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Brought to light – chromobodies reveal changes in endogenous protein concentration in living cells
21.09.2018 | NMI Naturwissenschaftliches und Medizinisches Institut an der Universität Tübingen

nachricht A one-way street for salt
21.09.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists present new observations to understand the phase transition in quantum chromodynamics

The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.

This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.

Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...

Im Focus: Patented nanostructure for solar cells: Rough optics, smooth surface

Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.

"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...

Im Focus: New soft coral species discovered in Panama

A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.

Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...

Im Focus: New devices based on rust could reduce excess heat in computers

Physicists explore long-distance information transmission in antiferromagnetic iron oxide

Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.

Im Focus: Finding Nemo's genes

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

One of the world’s most prominent strategic forums for global health held in Berlin in October 2018

03.09.2018 | Event News

4th Intelligent Materials - European Symposium on Intelligent Materials

27.08.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Astrophysicists measure precise rotation pattern of sun-like stars for the first time

21.09.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Brought to light – chromobodies reveal changes in endogenous protein concentration in living cells

21.09.2018 | Life Sciences

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>