AbstractThe suggestion, based on atomistic simulation, of a surface-induced tension−compression asymmetry of the strength and flow stress of small metal bodies so far lacks experimental confirmation. Here, we present the missing experimental evidence. We study the transverse plastic flow of nanoporous gold under uniaxial compression. Performing mechanical tests in electrolyte affords control over the surface state. Specifically, the surface tension, γ, can be varied in situ during plastic flow. We find that decreasing γ leads to an increase of the effective macroscopic plastic Poisson ratio, νP. Finite element simulations of a network with surface tension confirm the notion that νP of nanoporous gold provides a signature for a local tension–compression asymmetry of the nanoscale struts that form the network. We show that γ promotes compression while impeding tensile elongation. Because the transverse strain is partly carried by the elongation of ligaments oriented normal to the load axis, the surface-induced tension–compression asymmetry acts to reduce νP. Our experiment confirms a decisive contribution of the surface tension to small-scale plasticity.