New study claims its better to be covert

By Erin Lindsay

Listen. Do you want to know a secret? The Beatles asked that question, but Anita Kelly, Notre Dame professor of psychology, says don’t tell. According to a recent study conducted by Kelly and her colleague Jonathan Yip, there may be a link between secrecy and mental illness. The study, the first of its kind, claims it may be better for one’s mental health and require less physiological energy to keep a secret than to reveal it, a common myth for a clean conscience.

“So many people believe that if you keep a secret, you’ll feel worse the longer you keep it. I wanted to show that that wasn’t true,” Kelly said.

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To initiate the study, Kelly and Yip asked 100 healthy people whether or not they were keeping a secret of some form of importance. After further investigation to verify that the hidden truths were not trivial, the twosome discovered that an average of three out of four people had been hiding a significant secret, some as long as six years.

Dizziness, nausea and chest pain were not psychosomatic symptoms prevalent among secret revealers, but rather of those who hid pertinent information from family, friends and loved ones. After preliminary results, Kelly’s wheels continued to turn.

“I started to realize that it wasn’t just the secret, but the type of person. There is a biological aspect to it all,” Kelly said, adding that the answer for those secret bearers may lie in their own personality traits.

“The secretive types, those who fear disclosure, do exhibit more physical and psychological symptoms, but those types may be predisposed to illness because of their personalities, not because of a particular secret,” Kelly said in a press release.

There are many consequences involved with sharing a secret, but Kelly says one in particular may be the driving reason for confession. A ruined reputation may be a price to pay in the aftermath of confession. An alcoholic for example, may suffer large amounts of social stress if titled as such. Kelly calls this concept an “important trade-off” that often times convinces the bearer to reveal.

Edelyn Verona, associate professor of clinical psychology for the University says that while the study appears interesting, she wonders about the role of gender differences.

“What’s interesting is that women usually cope better with stress because they share their feelings, whereas men tend to keep to themselves,” Verona said.

Kelly says that although she considered the differences that could be created by gender influences, she didn’t believe they played a role in the study.

“I found no gender differences. Yes, women self-disclose more than men do, but they are equally secretive,” Kelly said.

A prime example to support Kelly’s study came about with the recently revealed identity of Deep Throat. The primary and anonymous source of information for the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration, recently unmasked as W. Mark Felt, kept his secret for over three decades with little evidence of psychological distress.

Kelly’s research is making its way across the country. University Professor of psychology Howard Berenbaum said that while it is difficult to comment without seeing the research, the study is no doubt still intriguing.

“From the description it sounds very relevant to the world of psychology,” Berenbaum said.

So what does the future hold for secret bearers? The final results of Anita Kelly and Jonathan Yip’s study will be published in the “Journal of Personality” in late October. Kelly says that everyone has secrets, including herself, it’s just a matter of how long we decide to hold out.