Crying Doesn’t Help

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

As a mediator, I am sometimes confronted with a party who starts to cry as she tells me her story or relates some aspect that is very emotional. My inclination is to hand her a box of Kleenex and attempt to assure her that it is alright to cry and, in fact, will probably do her “good.”

Well, a recent study indicates that the folklore that a good cry is good is incorrect. A new study published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Research in Personality (entitled When and for whom does crying improve mood? A daily diary study of 1004 crying episodes) indicates that crying is not as cathartic as we all think it is. Rather, “. . .shedding tears only improved mood in one-third of cryers who kept tabs of their bawling behaviors. . . .” (“Crying shame: Tears don’t make you feel any better, study shows” by Cari Nierenberg) (

Researchers asked 97 women aged 18 to 48 in the Netherlands to keep a daily diary of their moods and crying spells over a 60 to 90 day period. Men were not included in the study.

Each participant noted her mood each day, whether she had an urge to cry and if she, in fact, did so. For each crying episode, the participant jotted down the reason for it, its length, its intensity, where it occurred, if others were present and how they felt afterwards.

These diaries provided 1,004 crying episodes to analyze. The researchers found that on an average, each episode lasted eight minutes, occurred in the living room, either alone or with one other present and resulted from seeing others suffer or due to conflict or loss. (Id.)

Most importantly, 61% “reported no change in mood compared to how they felt before” they cried. “Thirty percent experienced a better mood afterwards and nine percent felt worse.” (Id.)

So, contrary to conventional wisdom, crying does not necessarily improve one’s mood. For those whose mood did improve, it was the intensity of the sobbing, rather than its length, that made the difference: the more intense sobbing led to a better mood.

The teachable moment is that if someone is going to cry during a mediation, it should be intense. Otherwise, there is only a one in three chance that the sobbing will improve her mood and possibly lead to a good outcome at the mediation.

. . .Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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