They heard a cry: psychosocial resources moderate perception of others' distress


  • Portions of this research were presented at the International Conference of Research on Emotions, New York.


Two studies tested whether psychosocial resources affect perception of another's distress. Participants' had their resources depleted, left unchanged, or boosted by elaborately recalling either someone who had betrayed them, a neutral person, or a close and trusted other, respectively. Participants then listened to disturbing baby cries, and rated how much distress the cries conveyed. As predicted, participants who recalled a betrayal subsequently heard the cries as conveying more distress than did other participants (Study 1). However, recalling a betrayal did not amplify cry ratings if, prior to cry rating, betrayal-related thoughts and feelings were disclosed (Study 2). The moderating effect of disclosure on cry ratings indicates that boosting resources (disclosure) can counteract the effects of resource depletion (betrayal). Results in both studies remained significant even after controlling for mood. This research is the first to show that social contexts, and emotional disclosure, each affects perception of others' distress. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.