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New research reveals the long-term toll of keeping secrets

13 September 2017

Secrets burden minds. To understand how, researchers have previously focused on the act of concealment during one-off social interactions, showing that keeping a secret is draining and can increase anxiety. But what about the longer-term toll? A new paper in Attitudes and Social Cognition describes ten studies on the impact of secrecy day-on-day, showing how the burden of a secret peppers our waking life with reminders and periods of brooding.

The Columbia University team – Michael Slepian, Jinseok Chun, and Malia Mason – first developed and validated a secrets survey with two thousand participants. From this they identified 38 classes of secrets covering a range of contexts from theft and drug use to sexual orientation.

Using the new survey with 600 more participants (for most of the paper, participants were recruited from an online portal and tended to be in their thirties), the researchers found that 96 per cent of them currently had a secret of some kind, most commonly romantic thoughts about someone outside their relationship, sexual behaviour, or emotional infidelity.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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