Prior research on secrecy has examined the effects of keeping one's own secrets, but people keep others' secrets too. The present work presents the first examination of the experience of keeping others' secrets. Three studies (one correlational, two experimental) with more than 600 participants holding more than 10,000 secrets demonstrate that being confided in brings relational benefits, but is also a burden. The closer one is to the confider, the more one's mind wanders toward the secret, predicting increased feelings of intimacy, but also burden. The more a secret has overlap with one's own social network, the more one conceals the secret on the other's behalf, predicting increased feelings of burden. Experimentally shifting the mentally accessible framing of the secret (to focus on closeness or overlap) influences attributions made about being confided in, as does shifting the meaning people infer for why their mind wanders toward the other's secret (i.e., mind-wandering as revisiting or as problem-solving). Being confided in can be both a burden and a boost — pathways that operate simultaneously and independently from each other.
Michael Slepian and K. Greenaway
Journal Article
Publication Date
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Full Citation

Slepian, Michael and K. Greenaway
. “The benefits and burdens of keeping others' secrets.”
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
, (September 01, 2018):