What happens to your brain when you're keeping a secret
Everyone has secrets, but a new study out of Columbia University suggests that keeping them isn’t just a matter of privacy. As it turns out, keeping secrets can have a serious impact on our minds and our perspective.
Columbia University professor Michael Slepian worked with two groups, both keeping a secret. He asked participants in one group to focus on what he calls “preoccupying secrets,” which refers to secrets that eat away at you, whether they are significant or not. The second group was told to focus on “non-preoccupying secrets,” which take up less brain power.
The participants were then shown a picture of a hill and asked to judge how steep it was. His findings were surprising.
The analysis reads, “The results were consistent: those participants who were asked to recall a preoccupying secret judged the hill to be steeper, and therefore more forbidding, just as if they were lugging a heavy load.”
The more brain power needed to keep a secret, the more it literally weighed people down. We often talk about secrets as if they are weight on our shoulders, but as it turns out that metaphor is really appropriate.
“The more you feel preoccupied by a secret and are thinking about it, the more you are using your personal resources — cognitive and motivational — the less energy you feel you have available to pursue other tasks. You see things around you as more challenging. It’s the same outcome as when you are carrying a heavy burden,” the study reads.
Anyone who has had a secret eat away at them, whether it’s something we feel will push us away from those closest to us or just something that we’re a little worried about, can attest to the difficulty it causes both inside and out. This research underlines that struggle, and proves that having a secret can have a huge impact on other areas of our lives. If you’re stressing out about something, chances are other parts of life will seem far more difficult than usual.
The answer to the problem of keeping a secret is probably obvious. Slepian conducted a study in 2014 that showed telling someone can alleviate the burden. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and in some cases it might require more than just finding a friendly face to air your worries to.
But next time you are really stressed, don’t feel like you have to keep it to yourself! Tell someone, and you may be surprised by how it changes your perspective.
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