Confessing Half the Truth is Worse than a Full Confession

dreamstimefree_23862612-200x300A recent study purports that people who fully confessed after lying when given the opportunity to come clean, felt better than those who partially confessed.  The study which was published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology was comprised of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

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. But our findings show just the opposite is true, lead author Eyal Peer, Ph.D., told the American Psychological Association.

According to the research paper and Fast Company.com, 4,167 participants were surveyed online across the country in multiple experiments.  In one experiment participants were asked how many times they accurately predicted the outcome of 10 coin tosses (heads/tails).  Researchers used the incentive of earning money for every correct prediction.

In comparison to previous studies, which focused more on a complete confession or complete lie, this study takes into account the partial lie, which is probably more realistic.

After they reported their results, participants were given the opportunity to confess if they over-reported their number of correct guesses, without penalty. Of the approximately 2,100 participants, 35% cheated. Of that group, approximately 18% (or 139 participants) confessed to cheating, with nearly 40% partially confessing and 59% making a full confession.

So why are partial lies less satisfying than a purge of an entire lie?

According to the study coming clean allows you to move on, which relieves a person’s guilt.  However, people who’ve been dishonest and decide to partially confess do so most often to appear more credible to others while still being able to reap the benefits of their dishonest behavior.

By limiting the extent of their confession, the study suggests, the partial confessor may feel more credible but it comes at an emotional cost -feeling worse than those who fully confessed.

 “People seeking redemption by partially admitting their big lies feel guiltier because they do not take complete responsibility for their behaviors. True guilt relief requires people to fully come clean, Peer said.

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