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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 12-Aug-18


Sunday 12-August-18

The Power of Crying in Persuasion and Interrogation

I had a foreign friend stay recently, who told us an interesting story of persuasion, military trauma and interrogation.

She was not working in the military but had to deal with a very arrogant, misogynistic soldier who had been allocated to her on a team exercise. A power she had was to be able to allocate people to some charitable work, so to help the soldier develop more empathy, she send him for a period to work in a children's hospice. The action had an astonishing effect. When the soldier returned he was extremely obedient and as as helpful as he could be.

The friend then recounted a subsequent conversation with another military colleague, who worked in special forces training and who explained why the action had such a salutary effect. Apparently one thing that has a mind-curling effect on men of all stripes is the continuous crying of women and children, especially when the person is unable to stop this crying. Evolution, it seems, has taught men that the cries of women and children require immediate male attention and that it is imperative that the man acts to remove the cause of distress. This makes sense as a mechanism for preserving families. Subjected to the regular crying of patients and parents in the hospice, the once-arrogant soldier was traumatized and brought down from his high-handed position. This principle is even used in interrogation, apparently, where grown men will crumble when subjected to non-stop sounds of children and women crying.

Having heard this story, I am now wondering afresh at the power of crying.

Crying of course also has a social role, where wails and tears of children are often used to persuade parents. Indeed, it seems to be a major reason for their existence and some seem to be able to 'turn on the waterworks' at will. It can also happen with adults, though perhaps less often and especially not from men in societies where male crying is seen as displaying weakness rather than legitimate distress. I know that I have been programmed not to cry and even in extreme distress I can feel the mental blockage. While I may 'tear up', my brain somehow prevents me from breaking down into sobbing. I simply cannot remember the last time I reached this stage.

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