Partial confessions are attractive, but come with an emotional cost, says new research
People feel worse when they tell only part of the truth about a transgression compared to people who come completely clean, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
Cheaters who confessed just part of their wrongdoing were also judged more harshly by others than cheaters who didn’t confess at all, according to five experiments involving 4,167 people from all over the United States. The article appears in the February issue of APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“Confessing to only part of one’s transgressions is attractive to a lot of people because they expect the confession to be more believable and guilt-relieving than not confessing,” said lead author Eyal Pe’er, PhD, who ran the studies at Carnegie Mellon University and is now at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. “But our findings show just the opposite is true.”
Confessing to some bad behavior was more common than making a full confession among those who cheated as much as possible in the study. But only telling part of the truth, as opposed to not confessing at all, was more likely to lead to increased feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety, the research found. In other words, it’s best to commit to an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to confessing, said Pe’er, who conducted the research with Alessandro Acquisti, PhD, of Carnegie Mellon University, and Shaul Shalvi, PhD, from Ben-Gurion University in Israel.