You're on a plane watching a Legally Blonde for the hundredth time, and suddenly you find yourself inexplicably sobbing. If this scenario sounds all too familiar, you're not alone.
In fact, 15 percent of men and 6 percent of women reported that they're more likely to cry while watching a film during a flight than if they were to watch it anywhere else, according to a recent survey commissioned by London's Gatwick Airport. And an earlier survey from Virgin Atlantic found that 55 percent of people admitted to being more emotional than normal while flying. (Virgin even started running tongue-in-cheek "emotional warnings" before some of its in-flight films.)
Unfortunately, there's no clear-cut answer as to why some people seem to be more prone to crying on planes, but scientists do have a few theories:
There could be a physiological link between altitude and emotion.
"Some believe that the slight reduction in oxygen levels at high altitude might affect the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, thus altering our mood and potentially making some of us more susceptible to feelings of sadness," biologist Emily Grossman said in Gatwick's report. "Altitude can certainly make us feel more tired, which is known to decrease our ability to be able to manage negative emotions, perhaps explaining our reduced threshold for tears."
When there are no distractions, you can be more emotionally involved in a film.
"You have to watch movies with headphones on [on a plane], which forces you to really immerse yourself in the movie and also to have a sense that you are alone, which may increase the impact of the movie," Lauren Bylsma, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told Real Simple.
Airplanes can feel like a safe place to grieve.
There haven't been any official studies on this in reference to flying, but a 2004 study on grieving while driving found that "some bereaved people seem to save their grieving for times when they drive, because that is when they have the time and privacy to think and feel." Traveling on a plane can feel isolating and therefore experts theorize you could feel more open to crying.
Being stuck in one place for an extended period of time can make you feel hopeless.
"Crying seems to occur in situations where action makes no sense," Ad Vingerhoets, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and one of the world's leading experts in crying, told The Atlantic. "Where [action] is not needed or where you can't act because you feel hopeless or are helpless. When there's no reason to fight or fly, you just have to deal with your emotions." Translation: When you're on a plane, you have given up complete control. Once you're up in the air, you're stuck there, and it can feel lonely and force you to experience a variety of emotions, possibly resulting in some tears.
Everything about traveling just makes you want to cry.
If you're going on a trip, you're probably leaving something behind, even if only temporarily. And if that weren't enough to deal with, you've probably also stayed up all night packing, rushed to the airport, and dealt with surly travelers and airline workers-meaning once you finally take off, you're ready to release all that stress from your body.
And guess what? That's perfectly okay. Just let it out, girl.
(h/t Real Simple)
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