Original article:

Age-related changes in the signal value of tears

Evolutionary Psychology 9(3): 313-324 Debra M. Zeifman, Department of Psychology, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA, dezeifman@vassar.eduSarah A. Brown, Department of Psychology, Haverford College, Haverford, PA, USA


Emotional tears may be uniquely human and are an effective signal of distress in adults. The present study explored whether tears signal distress in younger criers and whether the effect of tears on observers is similar in magnitude across the life span. Participants rated photographs of crying infants, young children, and adults, with tears digitally removed or added. The effectiveness of tears in conveying sadness and eliciting sympathy was greatest for images of adults, intermediate for images of children, and least potent for images of infants. These findings suggest that the signal value of tears varies with the age of the crier. The results may shed light on the functional significance of crying at different stages of human development.


crying, distress vocalizations, emotional tears, emotion, facial expression

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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