About TearAid

What is TearAid?

The EU-funded TEARAID project tries to solve the question what kind of help tearful portrayals of refugees activate and why this is the case. Specifically, we examine the effects of tearful images of refugees on the promotion of two types of prosocial intentions and/or behavior: autonomy-oriented help (aiming at promoting refugees’ agency) and dependency-oriented help (aiming at alleviating immediate suffering by providing, for instance, food and shelter). We also measure real, meaningful helping behavior: we invite participants to support real social initiatives helping refugees.

We also test the role of underlying mechanisms like perceived humanness or needs of the tearful person and emotions felt in response to tears, such as compassion or moral anger.

We use photos and videos of refugees from news stories and/or social campaigns by NGOs to compare people’s reactions to  tearful and non-tearful images of refugees.

This project will assist in improving measures of prosocial behaviour and creating joint initiatives with art (photography), fundraising industry, and the civil society.

What is the impact of tearful portrayals of refugees on helping?

This is an example of digital manipulation of a photograph by adding visible tears, alongside the original photo. All photos copyright by Martin Thaulow. All photo manipulations by Patryk Matela. Scroll slider left/right to see the difference.


CHALLENGE ONE: We examine the effects of tears on the promotion of actual prosocial behavior (i.e., autonomy- and dependency-oriented help), providing an innovative tool for its measurement and creating synergies between research in social sciences, civil society organizations, and fundraising initiatives.

CHALLENGE TWO: We address the question why these effects occur, i.e. test the role of underlying mechanisms, such as perceived humanness of the tearful person, and self-transcendent emotions felt in response to tears, such as compassion or moral anger.

CHALLENGE THREE: We test when these effects occur, i.e. identify factors that strengthen or weaken them, including the situation in which a person is shedding tears (whether being comforted by another person or not), as well as participants’ age, gender, or political ideology and the target’s gender.

To address above-mentioned challenges, we use real-life images (photographs and videos) of refugees used in social campaigns by non-governmental organizations (specifically, Refugee Today).

Importantly, we test people’s reactions including actual, meaningful helping behavior (contribution to real fundraising initiatives) in response to tearful and non-tearful refugees. Thus, TEARAID provides an innovative tool for measuring prosocial behavior, creating joint initiatives with the civil society and fundraising industry.

In general, the project will contribute valuable knowledge regarding the effects images of tearful refugees in mass media have on solidarity with refugees among members of the receiving society.

Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 896377 and by Migration and Societal Change Focus Theme, Utrecht University

All header photos are copyrighted by Martin Thaulow