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January 11, 2011

Oh, fer crying out loud.

Filed under: Psychology, media — posted by Breakup Girl @ 12:14 pm

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You know that recent story about how “Women’s Tears Say ‘Not Tonight, Dear’?” Over at the Ms. blog, J Goodrich (Echidne of the Snakes) takes the boneheaded sexist headlines and media “analyses” of a recent Israel study and basically kicks them so hard they cry.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, the Weizmann Institute of Science researchers collected emotional tears from female volunteers by showing them sad movies. Then they had male test subjects sniff the actual tears and fake tears comprised of saline.

A whiff of the real deal caused testosterone levels in the men to drop significantly. They found pictures of women less sexually attractive. When the men were sent into brain scanners, and shown a sad film, the men who were exposed to the fake tears didn’t show much lower activity in a region associated with sexual desire, but the activity in the same region was greatly reduced in men who breathed real tears.

The brain scans, the big yawn over alluring pictures and the drop in the he-man hormone led the scientists to conclude that “women’s emotional tears contain a chemosignal that reduces sexual arousal in men.”

MSNBC’s conclusion:

Bottom line, ladies? If you’re looking for arousal, don’t turn on the waterworks.

Basically, as she summarizes, most of the reporting on the study, rather than actually REPORTING ON THE STUDY, invokes a colorful array of half-baked stereotypes: tears as “weapon in the battle of the sexes” that women deploy on demand, men as morons who are deterred from their search for sex only by ladyweeping.

Goodrich: “Let’s take a step backwards and look at the actual study and its possible meanings:

For practical reasons, Sobel and his colleagues have studied only women’s tears. But they suspect that men’s tears, and possibly children’s, also contain chemical signals and are eager to find out what messages they may convey.

That snippet suggests a completely different interpretation of the study findings. They may not ultimately be about the effects of women’s tears on men’s hormone and arousal levels but about the effects of human tears on other human’s hormones and emotions. This is not hidden in all the popularizations but it certainly has been pushed behind that “sex sells” curtain, and you have to work down the articles to find it. /snip/

Here are my further conjectures: It seems like a very useful and common-sense conclusion that another person’s tears will reduce your sexual arousal. Something tear-worthy is happening and perhaps it’s an important survival cue to pay attention to.

I’ve got one word to say about the state of journalism and gender stereotyping: *Sob.*

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