The Price of Keeping Big Secrets

Even the words we use to describe secrecy suggest physical burdens:  we “keep” or “hold onto” or are “weighted down” by hiding important information from others.

A new series of studies reported in the March issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology  investigated the physical impact of harboring important secrets, such as secrets concerning infidelity and sexual orientation.

“People who recalled, were preoccupied with, or suppressed an important secret estimated hills to be steeper, perceived distances to be farther, indicated that physical tasks would require more effort, and were less likely to help others with physical tasks. The more burdensome the secret and the more thought devoted to it, the more perception and action were influenced in a manner similar to carrying physical weight.”

As lawyers counsel clients about the costs of pursuing conflict resolution options that do or do not encourage transparency and personal responsibility, we would do well to include educating our clients about the hidden but predictable costs to physical and emotional health of choosing options that encourage or require  keeping burdensome secrets under wraps.

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