New Study De-mystifies The Urban Legend That We Are More Likely to Cry When We Watch a Movie on a Plane

First Scientific Study Shows No Difference in the Rate of Crying in the Air vs. on the Ground, But Reveals The Top Factors That Contribute to In-air Movie Crying, the Film Genre That Produces the Most Tears, and the Top Tearjerker


"The results debunk the myth, but also underscore something we’re always telling our members: check your assumptions with real data."

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--With spring travel in full swing, PatientsLikeMe has published results of the first scientific study to explore whether we are more likely to cry watching a movie on a plane than on the ground. The pseudo-phenomenon is often reported by celebrities and the media and is sometimes called altitude-adjusted lachrymosity syndrome (AALS).

The “No Tears in Heaven” study, published today in the scientific journal PeerJ, shows that frequent fliers aren’t always frequent criers. In a survey of 1,084 people living in the U.S., one in four respondents reported crying while watching movies in flight vs. 22 percent who watched movies on the ground, a non-statistical difference. The data also showed that:

  • The most likely contributor to crying behavior isn’t altitude, mild hypoxia or alcohol, but the type of movie people chose to watch. People watch more dramas and family films on planes and more action movies on the ground, and on the plane, dramas provoke the most tears.
  • About 43 percent of flyers who watched a drama cried, compared to 30 percent of flyers who cried watching animated or family features, 25 percent who cried watching action, fantasy or sci-fi films and 14 percent who cried watching comedies, including romantic comedies.
  • The top five dramatic films that made people cry were, in order: “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (100 percent of those polled who watched the movie cried); “Okja” (90 percent cried); “Lion” (65 percent cried); “La La Land” (59 percent cried) and “Moana” (42 percent cried).
  • People reporting AALS are also most likely experiencing “dramatically heightened exposure,” binge watching more films on a plane in a week than they would in a year at home or in a theatre.
  • Gender played a part. While the study found females are more likely to cry than males, researchers suggest this has more to do with socialization to certain film choices, and the idea that men are less likely to accurately self-report instances of crying.

The patient network has long studied the broader human experience of those living with medical conditions, and has published research about uncontrollable emotional outbursts in various medical conditions. The study about crying on planes kicked off after Vice President of Innovation Paul Wicks, a frequent flier, was on a flight back from an ALS conference and found himself weeping while watching “Selma.”

“Although I was studying this uncontrollable emotional expression in people with a medical condition, I thought maybe lots of healthy people might have uncontrollable, unexplained outburst of crying in certain settings too,” said Wicks. “The results debunk the myth, but also underscore something we’re always telling our members: check your assumptions with real data.”

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe, the world’s largest personalized health network, helps people find new options for treatments, connect with others, and take action to improve their outcomes. The company has worked with every major pharmaceutical company and a range of government organizations to bring the patient voice to research, development and public policy. With more than 600,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 100 research studies. Visit us at or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

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New study de-mystifies the urban legend that we are more likely to cry when we watch a movie on a plane (Graphic: Business Wire)


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