Burdensome Secrets Make People Feel Heavier

When people talk about carrying a secret, they describe it as if they are actually physically carrying something of tangible substance. Secrets are referred to as burdensome, and when they are revealed, people often say they feel as if a weight has been lifted. Although it has been evidenced that secrets can lead to emotional stress and depletion of cognitive properties, it is unclear whether the “weight” people attribute to secrets can impact physical tasks. Michael L. Slepian of the Department of Psychology at Tufts University in Massachusetts conducted a series of experiments designed to evaluate how people perceived the weight of a secret.

In the experiments, Slepian asked participants who were carrying a secret to determine the slope of a hill and the distance of a designated physical task. He then measured whether the frequency of thinking about a secret would affect the perceived physical effort needed to complete a task. Lastly, Slepian gauged whether harboring a secret would impede an individual’s willingness to help another person with a physical activity. The results revealed that across all four experiments, participants’ perceptions were “weighed down” by their secrets.

In the first experiment, the participants judged the hill as being steeper than it was, suggesting they felt physically weighed down by their secret. They also viewed the distance as being longer, rather than shorter, as would be the case if they were merely cognitively overloaded. This finding implies that carrying a burdensome secret affects perception of physical weight as it is related to physical tasks, and not just cognitive appraisals. In the final two experiments, the more frequent the secret thoughts, the more physical exertion participants thought they would need and the less willing they were to offer help to someone else. The findings of this study demonstrate the deleterious effects of carrying a secret, above and beyond the emotional and physical health risks. Slepian believes that individuals who harbor deep secrets such as trauma and abuse are vulnerable to stress arising from perceived challenges across many life events. “In sum, important meaningful secrets, including those regarding infidelity and sexual orientation, affected individuals across numerous domains, as if they were physically burdened,” Slepian said.

Slepian, Michael L., E.J. Masicampo, Negin R. Toosi, and Nalini Ambadi. The physical burdens of secrecy. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 141.4 (2012): 619-24. Print.

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  • Anna

    November 22nd, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Although I agree this happens in our mind,the reason for it can be very different for different people and in different situations.I have had a few secrets that were really heavy on me.And yes,I can say they may have affected me even on a physical level at the time.But at other times, I think the very connotation that secrets are a ‘weight’ can make the person feel that way even though the magnitude of the secret may not be too high.

  • betty

    November 22nd, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    can definitly relate.some secrets just weigh you down n there is nothing you can do about them. sometimes when I revisit moments where my secrets were actually formed it sends me into heavy breathing like I am present in that very moment. and yes it definitely does feel heavy at times. dont know if its all in the mind but when that is on my mind I do feel physically restrained.

  • Katherine R

    November 23rd, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    I know that for me when there have been times that I have felt stressed and like the weight of the world is on me, my performance at everything suffers as a result. It doesn’t really make sense that what is going on mentally and emotionally wold make shc an impact on you physically but I know that in my case, this has always been true. I try not to let the stress in, but it happens in such subtle ways that it is difficult to get past it until you are fully ready and willing to confront it and deal with it. For me I typically have to hit rock bottom before I am ready to start that climb back up again.

  • tabitha

    November 23rd, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    whao,now this is surprising!whatever secrets I have it does not make me feel this way.yes I know there are things in my head that the person before me is not aware of but to feel a weight would mean you are constantly thinking about the same and maybe are actually paranoid about the whole thing.remaining calm and basically being at peace can have a major effect in a sense that the weight is never felt no matte rhow big the secret is and I think that’s something all those affected by this ‘weight issue’ of a different kind need to try!

  • Tyler

    November 24th, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    take my advice- working out can be like therapy
    great stress reliever
    get rid of those burdens that are dragging you down

  • Shaun T

    November 24th, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    Well anything that’s bothering me or is something important will weigh me down. A secret is one such thing and for me the effects are very real. I cannot concentrate or get any task accomplished when i feel such a weight, which is quite often because of all the things on my mind. I need to get away from this feeling that I know is completely made up in my head but I have struggled for so long and it seems like a maze I do not know the way out of.

  • staci

    November 25th, 2012 at 5:19 AM

    Secrets like this that are weighing you down to this extent, you have to let go of those. Go to a priest, tell a friend, do something to unbuden yourself and let go of the guilt.

  • terrance

    November 25th, 2012 at 4:59 PM

    why should my secrets bring me down?its info I have and others don’t.for me at least, as long as its not guilt of something I did, I definitely do not feel any weight on me due to a secret that I ‘carry’!

  • Marcell

    November 26th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    Wow, I had never given any thought to how I go through every day impacted physically, emotionally, and spiritually by the emotions and problems that I carry inside and refuse to deal with. Am I refusing to confront them or am I simply afraid of the can of worms that looking at the more closely could open up? Life is so confusing sometimes! We want to feel that light and cheeriness that I think that life should be, but when you have such a load as this, well, you do feel weighed down and constrained.

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