If Titanic thought me one thing (aside from the fact that ships take a surprisingly long time to sink), it’s that “a woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets.” And according to scientific research, this bit of wisdom isn’t too far off from the cold hard truth (for both men and women).
A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology endeavored to reveal just how secretive the average person is, and what kinds of secrets are most common among average individuals.
Now, to be clear: the mere concealment of something does not qualify as a secret, according to the study. A true secret occurs when someone makes the conscious decision to conceal said secret from other people. The researchers found that three factors were relevant when determining a particular level of secrecy:
- Intention to conceal: Secrecy is not the fact that you are withholding a piece of information from someone — it’s the fact that you’re making the conscious choice to keep a piece of information from them. Otherwise, forgetting to tell someone what you bought at the grocery store yesterday would be considered a secret.
- Mind-wandering: This is simply a slightly more scientific term for identifying how often you think about your secret, and how often it drifts into the forefront of your consciousness. If you’re consistently making a conscious decision to withhold your secret, it inherently becomes more secretive. If, however, you’ve completely forgotten that you ever had the secret in the first place, it isn’t quite as furtive.
- Well-being (or guilt): This is kind of a no-brainer, but the more discomfort you feel about keeping a secret, the more secretive you’re being.
Keeping these three things in mind, the researchers provided study participants with a Common Secrets Questionnaire, which lists 38 common secrets, and asked participants to identify how many of the secrets they’ve had, and how many people they’ve told about said secrets.
As it turns out, the average person keeps around roughly 13 secrets (a number which initially seems low, but on second thought is perfectly respectable). Of those 13 secrets, five of the secrets have never been told to anyone (thereby making them true secrets, I suppose).
The most commonly-kept secrets were “extra-relational thoughts,” “sexual behavior,” “emotional infidelity,” and (perhaps surprisingly) “theft.” The least commonly-kept secrets were “drug use,” “work discontent,” and “belief/ideology.”
So, what can we glean from this particular analysis of secrets? Well, it seems that having a wandering eye (without necessarily acting upon those feelings) is a fairly common source of secretive thoughts. When we imagine dating or sleeping with someone else, we are likely to revisit this thought numerous times, but make a conscious effort to hide this piece of information from our significant others. This is not necessarily a troubling bit of information — on the contrary, as “sexual infidelity” was actually lower on the list of secrets. It’s simply a reminder that having an inner sexual life which is completely independent of our partner is completely normal. If anything, we should perhaps endeavor to be more open about these thoughts and attempt to de-stigmatize the reality of occasionally being attracted to other people.
That said, perhaps this study is a beneficial reminder that you never truly know anyone completely, and that everyone (even the partner you’ve been with for years) will always have a certain air of intrigue …