To Tell or Not to Tell: Disclosure and the Narrative Self


  • This work was supported by a proposal initiative grant and a University Research Grant from the University of Utah (first author) and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Grant of Canada (second author). Data for Study 2 were collected while the second author was on the faculty of the University of Toronto. We thank Tao Liu for the data reported in Study 1 and Laina Smith, Asma Teebi, Lori Martins, Silvia Fernandes, and Sybil Ngan for help with data collection and coding in Study 2. Romin Tafarodi, Tilman Habermas, and Susan Bluck provided thoughtful exchanges during the writing.

concerning this article should be addressed to Monisha Pasupathi, Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 390 S. 1530 E. 502, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112. E-mail:


ABSTRACT Drawing from a narrative identity framework, we present the results of three studies examining the nature of what people do and do not disclose about their life experiences. Across three studies, our findings indicate that (1) the major difference in what people do and do not disclose concerns the emotionality of the events and whether or not the events are transgressions; (2) for everyday memorable events, increased negative emotion is associated with greater likelihood of disclosure; but (3) for more important and/or longer retained events, increased negative and decreased positive emotion were associated with lower likelihoods of disclosure. We also found that socioemotional consequences are an important reason for nondisclosure of important past experiences and are predictably related to the extent to which events induce positive and negative emotions. Findings are considered in terms of their implications for narrative identity.