New Worlds: Tell the whole truth

People feel worse when they tell only part of the truth about a transgression, according to new research.

March 1, 2014 22:14
Woman weeping.

Woman weeping, crying, tear drop 521. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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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 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by the American Psychological Association. Cheaters who confessed only 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 US.

“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 Dr. Eyal Pe’er, who ran the studies at Carnegie Mellon University and is now at Bar- Ilan University in Ramat Gan. “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 telling only 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. Thus it’s best to commit to an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to confessing, said Pe’er, who conducted the research with Dr. Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University and Dr. Shaul Shalvi of Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba.

All of the experiments were conducted online. The first involved virtual coin tossing, in which participants were asked to predict the results of 10 coin tosses and report how many times they were correct. They received a 10-cent bonus for each correct guess. In that study, which involved 2,113 people (58 percent men with an average age 30), 35% cheated by adding about three correct guesses to their report. Among those who cheated, 19% then confessed – and of those, 60% confessed to everything and 40% confessed partially.

Researchers assured participants that even if they acknowledged cheating, they would still get paid according to their original report. The percent of partial confessors was higher among those who cheated to the fullest extent, whereas it was lower among those who cheated to only some extent.

In another coin-tossing experiment involving 719 people (65% male with an average age of 29), the researchers asked participants to report their positive and negative feelings just before or after their decision to confess. Participants who partially confessed, especially those who cheated the most, expressed more negative emotions, such as fear, shame and guilt, compared to those who confessed everything, did not confess or did not cheat at all. The participants in both coin-tossing experiments were unaware that the researchers had tracked the outcomes of their individual coin tosses and compared those outcomes to what each participant reported.

In another experiment, 357 participants (60% male, average age 30), described a time when they had partially or fully confessed to a misbehavior. People who described partial confessions expressed higher regret than people who reported full confessions. The experimenters were unable to determine if participants regretted their decision to confess or if they regretted their decision to confess only partially. However, full confessors were more relieved after their confessions when compared to partial confessors, and partial confessors felt more guilt than the full confessors, according to the findings.

People confessed to a wide range of transgressions, including cheating in school, drug and alcohol use, infidelity and lying. People were more likely to say they had fully rather than partially confessed to infidelity. But more participants said they confessed only partially when it was about lying or hiding the truth.

Previous studies have focused on confessions as an “allor- 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.”

NAKED RODENT NAMED ‘VERTEBRATE OF THE YEAR’ A hairless creature called the “naked mole rat” has been given a great honor by Science magazine – “Vertebrate of the Year” for 2013. The praise is the result of the work of University of Rochester biologists Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov who studied the long-living mammal.

One of the world’s leading journals on scientific research and news, Science notes that naked mole rats “will never win a beauty contest but may hold a lesson or two for humans” when it comes to warding off cancer. The subterranean rats have carved out a reputation for healthy living.

They can last as long as 30 years and stay healthy right up to the end – and they seem immune to cancer. In fact, when naked mole rat cells are induced to form a tumor, the rodents stop the threat almost immediately.

The researchers explained in one paper how a ribosome in naked mole rats “excels at producing error-free proteins,” while the other focused on “a super-sized version of a complex sugar that builds up in the spaces between cells and may keep the cells from clumping together and forming tumors.”

“The Vertebrate of the Year announcement is ultimately recognition that our work using unconventional animal models is on the same level as other top scientific developments in cancer research,” said Gorbunova. “And it shows that the research dollars invested by the National Institutes of Health is money well spent.”

The authors hope their work will one day lead to clinical treatments for preventing or controlling cancer in humans, but they warn that any medical solution is a long way off.

Gorbunova and Seluanov are currently trying to apply naked mole rat-like adaptations to mice in order to test whether that would boost longevity and resistance to cancer in that rodent. There’s no word on whether the mouse is eyeing Vertebrate of the Year honors for 2014.

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