Women's tears may send a sexual message in addition to an emotional one, study finds

Tears mean a lot of things in the drama of human interaction. They telegraph heartbreak, hopelessness, anger, frustration, elation and relief. They express mood - and can alter behavior - in an instant.

But it turns out there might be more to know about tears, which historically have interested poets more than scientists.

A team of Israeli researchers believes that tears, in addition to everything else they convey, send a sexual message that can be summarized as: "Now's not a good time." In a study published online Thursday by the journal Science, the researchers report that men who sniff tears cried by sad women experience a temporary decline in both sexual arousal and circulating testosterone, a hormone tied to libido.

"We've identified that there is a chemo-signal in human tears," said Noam Sobel, the researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science who headed the study.

Only women's tears have been studied so far, but the researchers suspect men's tears, and possibly children's, also contain chemical signals. They are eager to find out what messages those tears may convey.

"This experiment opened gazillions of questions. It opened way more questions than it answered," Sobel said.

The new study places human tears in a raunchier family of fluids that includes urine and the secretions of anogenital glands. Those fluids contain behavior-altering compounds, known as pheromones. Emotional tears have a different chemical composition from tears shed when the eye is irritated. But the identity of the ardor-quenching substance they contain isn't known.

Earlier research in rodents showed that liquids secreted from around the eye have a variety of social effects. In mole rats, the secretions reduce aggressiveness in head-to-head underground confrontations, but in mice they do the opposite.

"What we have found is that human emotional crying may not be so unique after all," Sobel said. "It is a reflection of something common to many if not all mammals, which is chemosignaling through lacrimal secretions."

The study, which required a complicated process of collecting tears and then exposing people to them in a controlled manner, was greeted positively in the small circle of researchers who study crying.

"It's the first report. I think it's quite interesting," said Robert R. Provine, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, who has studied tears as a visual cue.

"The results indeed are fascinating," said Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who has studied the social reactions to crying.

In the new study, Sobel and his colleagues collected tears from women who cried after watching a sad scene in a movie. The researchers beforehand trickled saline solution - salty water - down the cheeks of the women and collected it as a "control" substance. A group of men were then exposed to the two liquids by sniffing them in vials and, for some of the experiments, by having a small pad soaked with the liquid taped between the nostrils and the upper lip.

The men were unable to distinguish the two liquids; both were odorless. However, the men's physiological states, and to some extent their thoughts, changed depending on whether the liquid was tears or saline.

For example, when presented with emotionally ambiguous pictures of women's faces, 17 of 24 men in the experiment found the faces to be less sexually attractive after sniffing tears than after sniffing saline. After watching a sad movie and sniffing tears during it they also reported an overall reduction in sexual arousal.

These subjective changes were small. Slightly larger were changes in physiological measurements.

Testosterone concentration in saliva (which reflects the amount circulating in the bloodstream) fell 13 percent after sniffing tears but stayed the same after sniffing saline. Physiological state, as measured by skin temperature, heart rate and respiration, also fell after exposure to tears. Functional MRI imaging of the brain also showed less activity in areas associated with sexual arousal after smelling tears.

Taken together, the results "jointly suggest that women's emotional tears contain a chemosignal that reduces sexual arousal in men," the researchers concluded. "We have ... identified an emotionally relevant function for tears."

In an interview Sobel hastened to add that he doesn't think chemical signaling is unique to women's tears. His research used them simply because they were easier to obtain.

The research team posted an advertisement on the Weizmann Institute campus seeking volunteers who could cry easily. About 60 women and one man responded. They were then screened to see how easily they cried and the volume of tears they produced.

"We reached this core group of six women criers who could come back to the lab every other day and cry a full [milliliter]," Sobel said.

Each woman chose a movie to elicit crying, watching it in private and collecting her own tears. By far the most successful tear-inducer was the dying scene in "The Champ," a 1979 film starring Jon Voight about an over-the-hill boxer making a comeback in order to provide a better future for his son, whom he is raising on his own.

"That scene is a winner," Sobel said. "Emotion labs all over the world use it to establish sad mood."

Other reliable tear-jerkers were the Italian film "La Vita E' Bella" ("Life Is Beautiful"), "Terms of Endearment," "When a Man Loves a Woman" and the Israeli movie "Broken Wings."

The researchers now have two male criers and are slowly recruiting more in order to study the effects of their tears on women and on other men.
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Dilma Rousseff sworn in as Brazil's new president

Brazil's first woman President, Dilma Rousseff, has been sworn into office.

BBC News Latin America & Caribbean

She took over from her mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who stepped down after two terms as the most popular president in the country's history.

After taking the oath of office, Ms Rousseff promised in a speech to protect the most vulnerable in Brazilian society and govern for all.

She also vowed to consolidate the work of her predecessor, who she said had changed the way Brazil was governed.

Brazil's economy has grown strongly in recent years, but it remains one of the most unequal societies in the world.

Ms Rousseff was appointed energy minister in President Lula's government in 2003 and served as his chief of staff from 2005 to 2010.

She was elected in October, defeating the opposition candidate Jose Serra by 56% to 44% in a run-off vote.

She is known to favour a strong state role in strategic areas, including banking, the oil industry and energy.
'All Brazilian women should be proud'

Ms Rousseff's inauguration ceremony at the Brazilian Congress began with a ride through the capital, Brasilia, in a Rolls Royce.

After swearing the oath of office, Ms Rousseff began her inaugural address by noting that this was the first time in Brazil that the role of president had been given to a woman.

"I know the historical significance of this decision," she said to widespread applause. "Today, all Brazilian women should feel proud and happy."

Ms Rousseff then said this was "just the beginning of a new era" for Brazil, and promised to protect the most vulnerable in society and "govern for all".

But she also vowed to consolidate the work of her predecessor, who she described as a "great man" who had changed the way the country was governed and encouraged Brazilians to trust in the future of their country.

"The best homage that I can give to him is to continue the progress made by his government, and invest in the strength of the people," she added. "This has been the best lesson that President Lula has given all of us."

Ms Rousseff singled out his work over the last eight years to reduce poverty and promote economic prosperity.

"The most determined struggle will be to eradicate extreme poverty," she said. "We can be a more developed and fairer country."

"I will not rest while there are Brazilians without food on their table, homeless in the streets, and poor children abandoned to their luck."

She also outlined her plans for tax reforms, environmental protection, improved health services, regional development, and measures to protect the economy from foreign "speculation".

She later travelled to the presidential palace, where Lula draped her in the green-and-gold sash of the Brazilian head of state.

Ms Rousseff, a former Marxist rebel who was imprisoned for three years in the early 1970s for resisting military rule, has promised to protect freedom of expression and worship, and to honour the constitution.

The BBC's Paulo Cabral, in Brasilia, says Ms Rousseff faces significant challenges, public health, education and improving the country's infrastructure.

Brazil's economy is estimated to have grown by 8% in 2010. However, the currency, the real, has risen so high that it is now making Brazil's exports less competitive.

During his two terms as president from 2002, 30 million people were lifted out of poverty - a major reason for his status as Brazil's most popular president, our correspondent says.

During President Rousseff's term, Brazil will host the Rio Plus 20 global environmental summit in 2012 and the Fifa World Cup in 2014. She will also oversee preparations for the Summer Olympics in 2016.
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