Thinking about confessing something? Read this first!

By Seriously Science | October 1, 2014 6:00 am

If you are contemplating confessing a transgression, chances are you’ve also considered a “partial confession,” at least according to this study:  “As a strategy to appear better to others, partial confessions may help offenders to ‘get off the hook.’ For example, drivers accused of speeding may tell the officer, ‘I was only driving 10 mph above the limit’; a dieter may say, ‘I ate only one piece of chocolate’; a sexist manager may say, ‘I told only one dirty joke’; a cheating partner may say, ‘It happened only once.’” Here, researchers discovered that it’s pretty common to admit to a portion of one’s guilt, particularly among those who cheat to the greatest extent possible. Although the scientists found that partial confessions were more believable than not confessing at all, they also found that half-confessing made the cheaters feel worse than fully confessing or not confessing at all. Do you hear that, celebrities?

“I cheated, but only a little”: partial confessions to unethical behavior.

“Confessions are people’s way of coming clean, sharing unethical acts with others. Although confessions are traditionally viewed as categorical-one either comes clean or not-people often confess to only part of their transgression. Such partial confessions may seem attractive, because they offer an opportunity to relieve one’s guilt without having to own up to the full consequences of the transgression. In this article, we explored the occurrence, antecedents, consequences, and everyday prevalence of partial confessions. Using a novel experimental design, we found a high frequency of partial confessions, especially among people cheating to the full extent possible. People found partial confessions attractive because they (correctly) expected partial confessions to be more believable than not confessing. People failed, however, to anticipate the emotional costs associated with partially confessing. In fact, partial confessions made people feel worse than not confessing or fully confessing, a finding corroborated in a laboratory setting as well as in a study assessing people’s everyday confessions. It seems that although partial confessions seem attractive, they come at an emotional cost.”

Related content:
Despite what movies would have you believe, men are usually the first to confess love.
Cheaters might not always win, but they do get a “cheater’s high”.
NCBI ROFL: Powerful people are bigger hypocrites.

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Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
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