We often come across photographs and videos of animals with tears in their eyes. The objective is usually to share the message that even animals have the ability to experience pain and suffering. Such pictorials urge us to be kind to animals and not do anything that might harm them. While it’s true that animals can experience pain, do they really cry like humans? Well, here are some insights that might help us answer that question.
Physiological vs. emotional tears
Animals do have the physiological ability to produce tears just like humans. This is necessary to lubricate the eyes as well as to keep it clean from dust and debris. Human tears also perform the same functions to protect the eyes. However, it’s only humans who have the ability to produce tears, as a response to their emotions. Humans can cry due to various emotional reasons such as frustration, grief, anxiety, fear, helplessness, etc. In comparison, tears produced in animals are limited to physiological reasons and are not linked with emotional experiences.
How humans learned to cry
Many evolutionary biologists think that crying developed in humans, as it improved their chances of survival. In a social setting, crying would have helped humans to seek attention from their near and dear ones. This would have made it easier for them to resolve problems that they may have been facing. It is believed that evolutionary systems tagged crying as a positive trait and the gene responsible for making it possible was integrated widely in the human species.
In animals, the expression of pain and suffering or longing is usually expressed through sounds. For example, most baby mammals and birds make repetitive, high-pitched calls when they are afraid, hungry or experiencing any other issue. The high-pitched calls also help their mothers to locate them in case they are lost. Another example is that of rat pups that produce ultrasound waves in the range of 30-50 KHz to communicate with mother rats.
As is evident from the above, animals do have the ability to experience pain, fear, longing and sadness. However, they do not have the ability to produce emotional tears as humans do. Animals can express themselves through their cries and other sounds, but not through tears.
As such, tears are one of the key things that differentiate humans from animals. It also raises the question if we really belong to this planet. For conspiracy theorists, our tears could be another strong evidence that we might have been planted on earth by some super advanced alien species.