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

JH Zickfeld (First Author), NV Ven (Participant Author), AA Ozdogru (Participant Author), LA Vaughn (Participant Author), L Sharman (Participant Author), A Vingerhoets (Participant Author), Xue Zheng (Participant Author), LB Lazarevic (Participant Author), JB Berkessel (Participant Author), A Vatakis (Participant Author), J Karsten (Participant Author), A Tcherkassof (Participant Author), JK Vuoskoski (Participant Author), A Schwerdtfeger (Participant Author), J Boudesseul (Participant Author), A Kolen (Participant Author), A Ibanez (Participant Author), J Bavolar (Participant Author), I Kremer (Participant Author), I Konova (Participant Author)I Kardum (Participant Author), A Hartanto (Participant Author), A Gracanin (Participant Author), MJ Escobar (Participant Author), A Dodaj (Participant Author), N Basabe (Participant Author), A Caballero (Participant Author), N Kocsel (Participant Author), N Maeura (Participant Author), A Blaut (Participant Author), NF Balt (Participant Author), NJ Mateo (Participant Author), NM Majeed (Participant Author), O Pich (Participant Author), P Arriaga (Participant Author), P Carrera (Participant Author), P Chittham (Participant Author), JK Daniels (Participant Author), P Jose (Participant Author), AM Garcia (Participant Author), P Kacmar (Participant Author), P Mefoh (Participant Author), P Sikka (Participant Author), K Sesar (Participant Author), PJ Rentfrow (Participant Author), R Nussinson (Participant Author), HR Peltola (Participant Author), R Sebena (Participant Author), K Ito (Participant Author), K Dumont (Participant Author), Z Vally (Participant Author), R Shankland (Participant Author), K Barzykowski (Participant Author), YS Li (Participant Author), S Barbosa (Participant Author), S Haque (Participant Author), S Hareli (Participant Author), S Malik (Participant Author), S Mentser (Participant Author), S Villar (Participant Author), H Manley (Participant Author), JJB Aruta (Participant Author), H IJzerman (Participant Author), B Bhushan (Participant Author), SL Schorch (Participant Author), SLK Stewart (Participant Author), T Ebert (Participant Author), B Verschuere (Participant Author), TB Allred (Participant Author), Y Wu (Participant Author), C Estrada-Mejia (Participant Author), M Bobowik (Participant Author), C Morvinski (Participant Author), G Martinez-Zelaya (Participant Author), G Kokonyei (Participant Author), Y Uchida (Participant Author), M Eskisu (Participant Author), FM Gotz (Participant Author), M Nakayama (Participant Author), M Smieja (Participant Author), Y Shani (Participant Author), FA Stanke (Participant Author), EGD Burak (Participant Author), MD Espinoza (Participant Author), CJ Ballada (Participant Author), E Vanman (Participant Author), E Schrover (Participant Author), CT Orjiakor (Participant Author), E Lekkou (Participant Author), TS Colak (Participant Author), TT Su-May (Participant Author), M Stadel (Participant Author), TW Schubert (Participant Author), V Schonefeld (Participant Author), CW Ong (Participant Author), D Ferreira (Participant Author), W Sato (Participant Author), WQ Ng (Participant Author), D Martins (Participant Author), E Choi (Participant Author), D Paez (Participant Author), U Dogan (Participant Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal

13 Citations (Web of Science)


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
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Project sponsor

National Science Centre, Poland
Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA)
Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology
National Research, Development & Innovation Office (NRDIO) - Hungary
Hungarian Brain Research Programme
Open University of Israel

Project No.



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

Indexed by

  • ABDC-A
  • SSCI
  • Scopus


Dive into the research topics of 'Tears evoke the intention to offer social support: A systematic investigation of the interpersonal effects of emotional crying across 41 countries'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this