Earlier research found that the mere sight of tears promotes the willingness to provide support to the person shedding the tears. Other research, however, found that deliberate responses towards tearful persons could be more negative as well. We think this is because tears have ambivalent effects on person perception: we predicted that tearful people are seen as warmer, but also as less competent. In three studies we asked participants (total N = 1042) to form their impression of someone based on a picture. The person either displayed visible tears, or the tears had been digitally removed. Tearful individuals were perceived as being warmer, but also as less competent. In Study 2 we also added a measure of perceived sadness. Seeing a tearful face increased perceived sadness, and this (partially) explained the reduction in perceived competence of the target person. There was no such indirect effect of the tear on perceived warmth via perceived sadness. Study 3 found that people would be more likely to approach a tearful person to offer help than a tearless individual. At the same time, tearful individuals would be more likely to be avoided in situations in which the observer needs assistance for an important task.
- Stereotype Content Model