566: Secrets

Are you good at keeping secrets?


Full episode script

Secrets create pressure. It’s a particular pressure that you might feel in your gut, in your head, or even a pressure in your conversation. Wherever you physically feel it, there’s no denying that it can be felt — at least most of the time.

 

There’s several researchers that have made keeping secrets their focus, especially the psychological and social impacts of those secrets.

 

In Fast Company in 2016, Art Markman, PhD professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin wrote, quote:

When you have a piece of information that’s being withheld from other people for any of those reasons, it takes a certain amount of mental effort to keep it secret. You have to pay a lot of attention both to what other people already know as well as to whether they’re allowed to know the secret information, too. In your mind, if other people had the information that you possess, they would see the world differently than they do now–probably with a certain degree of shock. The truth is that it often feels good to elicit a reaction from other people when you tell them something, even if it isn’t something positive.In many cases, these secrets get more damaging the longer they remain hidden–which can put your integrity at risk anyway.

 

But is keeping a secret always a tough thing? That really depends on who you ask. There’s lots of research out there talking about how interpersonal withholding is stressful – and that stress can come out in a lot of ways and places. But that doesn’t mean that every secret is stressful. To quote extensively from a 2017 article in The Cut:

Michael Slepian, a management professor at Columbia Business School who studies the psychology of secret-keeping and his colleagues surveyed 1,000 people about the nature and extent of their secrets: what kinds they kept, whom — if anyone — they had told, and how often they thought about them. The average respondent was keeping 13 secrets, five of which they had never told anyone before. But the researchers also found that keeping a secret may not require the sort of potentially damaging mental gymnastics that previous studies presumed. People can become quite accustomed to hiding their secret; eventually, to many, keeping it hidden becomes second nature. What’s more, Slepian found no connection between active secret concealment and poor health or well-being. His previous work has shown that the bigger the secret, the greater the potential harm to its keeper — so in this study, he looked more closely at what, specifically, was driving the connection between secret keeping and lower well-being. Digging into his survey respondents’ answers, he found that the content of the secret — specifically, how negative the keeper perceived it to be — didn’t actually seem to matter. What did matter was how often someone thought about their secret: The more they did, the worse off they generally were.

 

So – as with many things – it may be more about context and less about the actual secret you’re trying to keep. But…

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.