Tears evoke the intention to offer social support: A systematic investigation of the interpersonal effects of emotional crying across 41 countries

Janis H. Zickfeld, Niels van de Ven, Olivia Pich, Thomas W. Schubert, Jana B. Berkessel, José J. Pizarro, Braj Bhushan, Nino Jose Mateo, Sergio Barbosa, Leah Sharman, Gyöngyi Kökönyei, Elke Schrover, Igor Kardum, John Jamir Benzon Aruta, Ljiljana B. Lazarevic, María Josefina Escobar, Marie Stadel, Patrícia Arriaga, Arta Dodaj, Rebecca ShanklandNadyanna M. Majeed, Yansong Li, Eleimonitria Lekkou, Andree Hartanto, Asil A. Özdoğru, Leigh Ann Vaughn, Maria del Carmen Espinoza, Amparo Caballero, Anouk Kolen, Julie Karsten, Harry Manley, Nao Maeura, Mustafa Eşkisu, Yaniv Shani, Phakkanun Chittham, Diogo Ferreira, Jozef Bavolar, Irina Konova, Wataru Sato, Coby Morvinski, Pilar Carrera, Sergio Villar, Agustin Ibanez, Shlomo Hareli, Adolfo M. Garcia, Inbal Kremer, Friedrich M. Götz, Andreas Schwerdtfeger, Catalina Estrada-Mejia, Masataka Nakayama, Wee Qin Ng, Kristina Sesar, Charles T. Orjiakor, Kitty Dumont, Tara Bulut Allred, Asmir Gračanin, Peter J. Rentfrow, Victoria Schönefeld, Zahir Vally, Krystian Barzykowski, Henna Riikka Peltola, Anna Tcherkassof, Shamsul Haque, Magdalena Śmieja, Terri Tan Su-May, Hans IJzerman, Argiro Vatakis, Chew Wei Ong, Eunsoo Choi, Sebastian L. Schorch, Darío Páez, Sadia Malik, Pavol Kačmár, Magdalena Bobowik, Paul Jose, Jonna K. Vuoskoski, Nekane Basabe, Uğur Doğan, Tobias Ebert, Yukiko Uchida, Michelle Xue Zheng, Philip Mefoh, René Šebeňa, Franziska A. Stanke, Christine Joy Ballada, Agata Blaut, Yang Wu, Judith K. Daniels, Natália Kocsel, Elif Gizem Demirag Burak, Nina F. Balt, Eric Vanman, Suzanne L.K. Stewart, Bruno Verschuere, Pilleriin Sikka, Jordane Boudesseul, Diogo Martins, Ravit Nussinson, Kenichi Ito, Sari Mentser, Tuğba Seda Çolak, Gonzalo Martinez-Zelaya, Ad Vingerhoets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tearful crying is a ubiquitous and likely uniquely human phenomenon. Scholars have argued that emotional tears serve an attachment function: Tears are thought to act as a social glue by evoking social support intentions. Initial experimental studies supported this proposition across several methodologies, but these were conducted almost exclusively on participants from North America and Europe, resulting in limited generalizability. This project examined the tears-social support intentions effect and possible mediating and moderating variables in a fully pre-registered study across 7007 participants (24,886 ratings) and 41 countries spanning all populated continents. Participants were presented with four pictures out of 100 possible targets with or without digitally-added tears. We confirmed the main prediction that seeing a tearful individual elicits the intention to support, d = 0.49 [0.43, 0.55]. Our data suggest that this effect could be mediated by perceiving the crying target as warmer and more helpless, feeling more connected, as well as feeling more empathic concern for the crier, but not by an increase in personal distress of the observer. The effect was moderated by the situational valence, identifying the target as part of one's group, and trait empathic concern. A neutral situation, high trait empathic concern, and low identification increased the effect. We observed high heterogeneity across countries that was, via split-half validation, best explained by country-level GDP per capita and subjective well-being with stronger effects for higher-scoring countries. These findings suggest that tears can function as social glue, providing one possible explanation why emotional crying persists into adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104137
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
While working on the study and/or writing the present paper Krystian Barzykowski was supported by the National Science Centre, Poland ( 2015/19/D/HS6/00641 , 2019/35/B/HS6/00528 ) and by the Bekker programme from the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (no.: PPN/BEK/2019/1/00092/DEC/1 ); Patrícia Arriaga and Irina Konova were supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology ( UID/PSI/03125/2020 ). Gyöngyi Kökönyei and Natália Kocsel were supported by the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office ( FK128614 ) and Gyöngyi Kökönyei was supported by the Hungarian Brain Research Programme (Grant No. 2017-1.2.1-NKP-2017-00002 ). Ravit Nussinson and Sari Mentser were supported by an internal fund of the Open University of Israel ( 509993-2018 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Attachment
  • Cross-cultural
  • Emotional crying
  • Emotional tears
  • Social support


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