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We’re All Keeping Roughly the Same Number of Secrets, Says Science


Do you pride yourself on your ability to keep a secret? Do your friends come to you if they want to get something off of their chest? Are your lips literally sealed and the keys are thrown away the moment someone’s confessed? According to science, at any given moment you’ve compiled quite a collection of skeletons in your closets, and it’s actually affecting the way you live your life.

A team of researchers led by Michael Slepian, professor of management at Columbia Business School, has shed some light upon the number of secrets that the average person is currently keeping. Slepian and company combined 13,000 real-life secrets that had already been recorded across 10 previous studies, to discover what we’re most likely to conceal. They broke these down into 38 common categories, ranging from cheating on a partner to petty theft to a secret hobby, then asked their 2,000 new participants if they were currently keeping a secret that fell under these umbrellas.

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On average, participants were found to be keeping 13 out of the 38 common secrets—five of which they had never once shared with another person. Most prevalent amongst these super-secrets were romantic desire, sexual behavior and telling lies.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, also turned its attention to how keeping secrets affect the way we behave and found that we’re actually more likely to concern ourselves with secrets when we’re alone, rather than when we’re trying to conceal them in social interactions.

“People have this curious way of talking about secrets as laying them down or unburdening them,” lead researcher Michael Slepian 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.”

“The bad news is that even when you don’t have to hide your secret, you might still frequently think about it to the detriment of your well-being,” Slepian said.

Loose lips sink ships, but secrets will keep you up at night.

The silver lining?

“But the good news is, if what’s most harmful is your thinking about the secret, if we could get you to think about it less, or change how you think about it, we could mitigate that negative effect.”

Ah, if only our brains had an off-switch.

This post was written by Katie Rossinesky. For more, check out our sister site Grazia.

NEXT: Want to know a secret that won’t burden you? Scroll through to learn some surprising facts about The Mickey Mouse Club.

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