Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Howard R. Pollio

Committee Members

Ron Hopson, Kathleen Lawler, Sandra P. Thomas


This study attempts a more holistic perspective on cancer and the emotions than previous research which has tended to focus on either biological, psychological or social aspects individually. Crying was chosen as an aspect of human existence which simultaneously implicates biological, psychological and social aspects of being human. Over a 30-day period, frequency and intensity of crying behavior was tracked in a group of 27 women with cancer and 22 women without. Women in this study ranged from 20 to 69 years of age. Among women with cancer, fifteen were participants in therapist facilitated psychosocial support groups and eleven were not. All participants completed a series of questionnaires that provided information regarding personal characteristics related to emotionally expressive style (Personal Attributes Questionnaire: Spence & Helmreich, 1978; Toronto Alexithymia Scale: Taylor, Bagby, Ryan, & Parker, 1990) as well as body image (Balogun, 1986). A written description of one crying episode as it occurred during a 30-day period was provided by each woman. Sixteen of the women, five women without and eleven with cancer, also provided in-depth verbal interviews in response to the question: "Can you describe for me your experience of crying?"

Quantitative and qualitative methods of data analysis were employed in this study. A one way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed across the three groups for data derived from test scores and crying frequency and intensity. Analysis revealed no significant differences in the means and standard deviations of any of eight variables. Pearson product moment correlations also were used to examine relationships between specific variables. The intensity of crying episodes was found to increase with frequency among all women regardless of health status. The more positive a woman's body image, the better able she is to identify and distinguish between feelings and bodily sensations of emotional arousal. Among women with cancer, both intensity and frequency of crying decreased with age. When these women expressed dissatisfaction with their body image, they also tended to express feelings in a concrete cognitive style. None of the variables employed in this study either singly nor in interaction predict frequency and/or intensity of crying episodes for all women. Among women with cancer who do not participate in psychosocial support groups, approximately 69% of all differences in crying intensity were predictable on the basis of an interaction between the ability to differentiate bodily sensations and feelings, to talk about feelings, and degree of emotionality and capacity for empathy and warmth.

Three major themes emerged from a hermeneutic analysis of descriptions of crying experiences: Being Separate From which accounted for 46% of all descriptions, Barrier (15%), and Being In Unity With (39%). Experiences of Being Separate From included experiences of both Tension and/or Loss. These experiences were equally as figural for women with cancer as without. Experiences of Barrier related to experiences of Control and/or Immersion. Descriptions of Being In Unity With included experiences of Letting Go and/or Connecting. Women with cancer focused more on experiences of Control and Letting Go while the Immersion and Connecting themes were more figural in descriptions provided by women without cancer.

Among women with and without cancer, crying provides a method for dealing with existential crises although the meaning of the experience is quite different for each group. Descriptions of crying provided by women with cancer make figural that which moves the world away or separates the woman from tensions and losses that threaten to overwhelm. Women without cancer describe being more aware of that which connects them to deeply felt emotions and/or draws the world closer. Both groups of women cry with similar frequency and intensity and do not vary significantly in terms of behavior, personal characteristics and/or body-image. Their crying, however, means different things to them; they live the same world in fundamentally different ways.

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