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Exposure to women’s tears decreases aggression in men

A groundbreaking study published on December 21st in the journal PLoS Biology has uncovered a fascinating aspect of human biochemistry and behavior. Conducted by Shani Agron at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the research reveals that chemicals in women’s tears have the ability to diminish aggression in men. 

Social chemosignaling

Specifically, when men sniff these tears, there is a noticeable reduction in brain activity related to aggression, subsequently leading to less aggressive behavior.

This phenomenon is an instance of social chemosignaling, where chemical signals influence social behavior. While such signaling is well-documented in animals, its understanding in humans is less clear. 

Male aggression 

The study drew parallels with rodents, where male aggression is known to be inhibited by the scent of female tears. 

To explore this effect in humans, the researchers conducted an experiment involving men who were exposed to either women’s emotional tears or a saline solution. 

Focus of the study 

During the experiment, the men engaged in a two-person game designed to provoke aggressive responses against a perceived cheating opponent. 

The opportunity for revenge presented itself in the form of financial loss for the other player. Importantly, the men could not differentiate between the tears and saline, as both were odorless.

Key insights

The results were striking: men exhibited more than a 40 percent decrease in aggressive behavior after inhaling women’s emotional tears. 

Further insights were gained through functional MRI imaging, which showed reduced activity in two aggression-related brain regions – the prefrontal cortex and anterior insula – when the men smelled the tears, compared to the saline. This diminished brain activity correlated with a decreased likelihood of the men seeking revenge in the game.

Study implications 

The study’s findings suggest that social chemosignaling plays a significant role in modulating human aggression, a concept previously considered more relevant to animal behavior. 

“We found that just like in mice, human tears contain a chemical signal that blocks conspecific male aggression. This goes against the notion that emotional tears are uniquely human,” the authors wrote.

Thus, this research not only sheds light on the complex interplay between human emotions, biochemistry, and behavior but also challenges the long-held belief that emotional tears are a uniquely human trait.


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