What is it about?

Tears are a natural aspect of life, with some individuals experiencing them frequently and others only occasionally shedding them. Most prevailing studies on crying have focused on tears of sorrow, but tears also flow from happiness. Focusing on tears of joy, our study explores data on the behavior of gold medalists of all 450 individual events at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympic Games at the end of the medalists' respective competitions and during the medal ceremonies to investigate factors associated with crying. We find that women cry more than men, older athletes cry more than younger athletes, athletes from the host country cry more at the end of the competition, and athletes cry more when they receive information on their victory immediately after completing their task. When looking at the socioeconomic characteristics of athletes’ countries, we find that men from countries with higher levels of gender equality, as indicated by greater female labor force participation rates, tend to cry more compared to men from countries with lower levels of gender equality. In addition, athletes from countries where there is less religious diversity tend to cry more compared to athletes from countries with greater religious diversity. Finally, we find no relationship between the wealth of a country and the propensity of its athletes of any gender to cry.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

Most of our understanding of tears in general, and cross-cultural differences in particular, is based on self reported assessments, which have certain limitations. For one, participants in these studies may incorrectly report data on their crying episodes or the contextual details surrounding their crying episodes. This could be due to forgetfulness but also because of shame associated with crying (e.g., adults frequently seek privacy before crying). Moreover, self-reports might also be influenced by gender-emotion stereotypes. Thus, people may not always like to report crying to others. One way to remove self-reporting biases in emotional studies in general and in studies on crying in particular is to conduct lab experiments by eliciting emotional responses. However, natural and highly emotional elicitors are not feasible in laboratory settings, whereas it is important that emotions are elicited strongly enough to be studied. Our study makes use of data from the Olympics where professional athletes have high incentives to win, and emotions can be strong and fully observable. Therefore, our study brings to the fore the usefulness of observational data to study emotions. Secondly, our study was motivated by the lack of previous studies on cultural differences in tears of joy as previous studies have mostly focused on tears of sorrow or tears shed in an unspecified context.


Using data from professional sports for research on emotions has many advantages. This is because participants in sports competitions compete under fixed and known rules, with highly emotional triggers. Moreover, the outcomes and identities of these participants are fully observable, making it a suitable "laboratory" to study human behavior in a real competitive environment. Thus, we encourage researchers to leverage sports data to investigate additional emotions that can be found in sports, such as anger, anxiety, excitement, happiness, sadness, and more.

Andrew Musau
Hogskolen i Molde

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Golden tears: A cross-country study of crying in the Olympics., Emotion, May 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/emo0001247.
You can read the full text:




The following have contributed to this page