Dr. Dean

Why Do Ghost Stories Bring Tears To My Eyes?

Posting Date: 10/29/1999

Julie: Here's a good Halloween question for you. Why do my eyes water whenever I hear a supernatural, creepy, ghost story? The more realistic the story, the more they water.

When I'm actually scared, my eyes don't water. It only happens when I hear stories.

Dr. Dean: The fright that overcomes us when we feel in danger triggers a different reflex than the emotional and intellectual fear a good story sets off. Our anatomy processes and responds to these stimuli in different ways.

Crying is an example of this. We get teary-eyed when we're really, really happy and also when we're really, really sad. Tears of joy and the tears of a good "boo hoo" cry are actually springing from different glands than the baseline moisture in the eyes. So physical responses that might appear the same sometimes originate from different systems.

The messages that pour out from the nervous system when we are scared have varying but similar effects.

People describe chills running up the spine or getting goosebumps or feeling their hearts race, but they are all part of a general outpouring of feelings from our nerves - your reaction is just a little more unusual.

It's nothing weird about you, if that's your concern. Basic physiology explains it.