Science Predicts You’re Hiding 13 Secrets – And Nearly Half of Those You’ve Never Told a Soul

A new study has found that the average person is holding onto 13 secrets, five of which they’ve never told a living soul. And it’s not the secret itself that will haunt you – it’s all the mental energy you spend thinking about it. Scientists have found that the burden of having secrets can affect you in ways you might have never considered – some people actually feel physically heavier when they’re burdened with a secret, and that extra ‘weight’ can skew how you navigate your surroundings. “People have this curious way of talking about secrets as laying them down or unburdening them,” lead researcher, Michael Slepian, a professor of management at Columbia Business School, told The Atlantic. “We found that when people were thinking about their secrets, they actually acted as if they were burdened by physical weight. It seems to have this powerful effect even when they’re not hiding a secret in the moment.” Slepian and his team examined 13,000 real life secrets recorded across 10 previous studies to figure out what people are keeping secrets about, what it’s like to have a secret, and why secret-keeping has overwhelmingly been viewed as a negative human experience. What they were particularly interested in examining was the long-held assumption that secrets can be harmful both to a person’s physical and mental well-being – previous research has linked secrecy to depression, anxiety, and poor physical health. But is it the content of the secret itself that’s so dangerous, or the simple fact that we humans respond terribly to keeping anything hidden? The researchers condensed their 13,000 secrets into 38 common categories of secrets, and presented them to 2,000 new participants. These categories involved things like telling a lie, harming someone, drug use, theft, violating someone’s trust, sexual infidelity, a secret hobby, and sexual orientation. When the participants were asked if they were keeping secrets related to any of these categories, they found that the average person was currently keeping 13 of the 38 secrets – five of which they have never told anyone about. As The New Yorker reports, the study found that for the average person, there’s a 47 percent chance that one of his secrets involves a violation of trust; a more than a 60 percent chance that it involves a lie or a financial impropriety; and a 33 percent chance that it involves a theft, a hidden relationship, or discontent at work. The team then asked the participants how often their minds wandered to think about those secrets in the past month, and how often they found themselves in situations that forced them to actively conceal these secrets. The results showed something completely unexpected – secrets were far more likely to come to the fore when people were alone with their thoughts than in social situations, meaning we spend way more mental energy mulling over our secrets on our own time than actively trying to conceal them. They also found that there was no predictor in terms of the content of the secret for how much it would affect someone – in other words, there’s no ‘moral scale’ that says some secrets are universally more consuming than others.

Science Alert, 29 May 2017 ; ;