Admitting to part of a lie does not help to relieve guilt, and may even increase anxiety and shame. Coming completely clean is the best approach, said researchers in a new study.
Investigators found that people feel worse when they tell only part of the truth about a wrongdoing compared to people who fully disclose their transgressions.
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 research is published in the 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, Ph.D.
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, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University, and Shaul Shalvi, Ph.D., from Ben-Gurion University in Israel….
Previous studies have focused on confessions as an “all-or-nothing” decision but this new research shows that the extent to which people are willing to come clean varies depending on the consequences of the decision, according to the authors.
“Paradoxically, people seeking redemption by partially admitting their big lies feel guiltier because they do not take complete responsibility for their behaviors,” Pe’er said.
“True guilt relief may require people to fully come clean.”
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