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Crying can make you appear less competent

10 October 2016

Shedding tears in public makes a person appear emotionally warm but it also makes them seem less competent according to a study published today in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

The study by Associate Professor Niels Van de Ven and colleagues from Tilburg University tested how over 1000 participants responded to images of people with tears rolling down their cheeks; or the same image in which the tear was digitally removed. The participants were asked to rate how warm and friendly they felt the individuals in the photos were and how competent. The images used depicted people experiencing genuine emotions.

Analysis showed that when participants rated someone based on a photo with a tear, the person was perceived as warmer than when the same individual was rated with the tears digitally removed. However, someone who cried was also seen as less competent. These effects were the same for men and women.

Professor van de Ven said:

“Tears are a powerful signal of sadness and an indication that someone needs help. Because we also see them as more warm and friendly, people become more likely to also offer the help they likely need. Hopefully this study has added a piece of the puzzle on why people cry”.

You can download the full study for free.

The Society publishes 11 academic journal titles in conjunction with our publishing partner Wiley-Blackwell. Visit the Wiley online library for more information. BPS members can access via PsychSource, our searchable journals, books and multimedia database, developed in partnership with Wiley-Blackwell. Abstracts are free to all, full-text free to members

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