Is Keeping a Secret or Being a Secretive Person Linked to Psychological Symptoms?


  • We are very grateful to Jeffrey H. Kahn for his insightful comments on an earlier draft.

Please address all correspondence to Anita E. Kelly, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556. E-mail:


ABSTRACT This prospective study explored whether keeping a major secret, self-concealment (i.e., the predisposition to keep secrets), and social support at Time 1 predicted symptomatology levels 9 weeks later (Time 2) among a sample of 86 undergraduates. The results showed that the process of keeping a secret actually predicted fewer symptoms, whereas the personality variable of self-concealment predicted more symptoms at Time 2, even when the analyses controlled for social support. However, the predictive effects of both secret keeping and self-concealment were wiped out when the analyses statistically controlled for initial symptomatology, which was positively linked to self-concealment from the outset. These findings challenge conventional wisdom about the dangers of keeping a major secret and suggest that, instead, the kind of person who is secretive simply might be more vulnerable to symptoms.