Having secrets is not a problem. Thinking about them is

KEEPING a secret is hard work, as both common sense and past studies confirm. Omitting pertinent information from a conversation, or even intentionally misleading an interlocutor, requires nimble thinking. How much of a burden, though, is merely possessing a secret, rather than trying to defend it against a nosy questioner? The catharsis that often accompanies confessing guilty secrets suggests it may be quite large. But, until now, no one has examined the matter scientifically.

In a study just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Michael Slepian of Columbia University, in New York, attempts to correct that omission. He and his colleagues presented a set of volunteers with a list of 38 sorts of things surveys suggest people commonly keep secret about themselves. Examples included infidelity, theft, poor performance at work, sexual orientation, having undergone an abortion and drug taking. Some of Dr Slepian’s volunteers participated over the internet. Some, recruited in New York’s biggest public space, Central Park, participated face to face. All remained anonymous—and, within statistical limits, both groups responded…Continue reading

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