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Social and psychological consequences of not crying: possible associations with psychopathology and therapeutic relevance

  • Dale C. Hesdorffer (a1), Ad J.J.M. Vingerhoets (a2) and Michael R. Trimble (a3)



Emotional crying is hypothesized to serve intra- and interpersonal functions. Intrapersonal functions are assumed to facilitate the capacity to recover from emotional distress, thus promoting well-being. Interpersonal functions are postulated to have a major impact on social functioning. We hypothesized that non-criers would have lower well-being and poorer social functioning than criers.


Study participants included 475 people who reportedly lost the capacity to cry and 179 “normal” control criers. Applied measures assessed crying, well-being, empathy, attachment, social support, and connection with others. Prevalence estimates of not crying by gender were obtained from a panel survey of 2,000 Dutch households.


In the main survey, tearless cases had less connection with others, less empathy, and experienced less social support, but were equal in terms of well-being. They also reported being less moved by emotional stimuli and had a more avoidant and less anxious attachment style. In multivariate analyses, being male, having an avoidant attachment style, and lacking empathy were independent predictors of tearlessness. Some 46.1% felt that not being able to cry affected them negatively; however, despite these findings, only 2.9% had sought any kind of professional help. Loss of the capacity to cry occurred in 8.6% of the men and 6.5% of the women in the large panel survey.


Despite reduced empathy, less connection with others, and a more avoidant/less anxious attachment type, well-being is maintained in tearless people. Additional clinical and therapeutic investigations of tearlessness may lead to clarification of bidirectional associations between psychiatric disorders (e.g., alexithymia, posttraumatic stress disorder, psychopathy) and tearlessness.


Corresponding author

*Address correspondence to: Dale C. Hesdorffer, Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center and Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street, P&S Unit 16, New York, New York 10032. (Email:


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The authors would like to thank the people who participated in our study. This research did not receive any specific grants from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.



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