Emotional tears have been proposed to represent a robust affiliative signal whose main function is to promote the willingness to help the crying individual. However, little is known about the psychological mechanisms at the basis of such responses. To investigate whether tears facilitate approach relative to avoidance tendencies, we exposed participants (N = 77) to pictures of faces with and without visible tears, in two different approach–avoidance tasks. In the first task, participants were instructed to either move toward tearful faces and away from nontearful faces, or the other way around, by using a joystick. In the second task, participants made approaching or avoiding responses to tearful and nontearful faces by pressing buttons. The results suggest that tears facilitate behavior that reduces the distance between the observer and the crying person. However, while tears appear to promote approach relative to avoidance behavior, the current findings do not allow firm conclusions about whether tears specifically facilitate approach or rather block avoidance tendencies in observers, or whether they possibly have both effects. Findings are discussed in the context of tears’ ability to act as a prosocial stimulus that signals non-aggressive intentions, as well as in the context of the functional goals that predispose humans to approach or avoid crying individuals.
Gracanin, A., Krahmer, E., Rinck, M., & Vingerhoets, A. J. J. M. (2020). The effects of tears on approach avoidance tendencies in observers. Evolutionary Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474704918791058