Exploring the Uncharted Territory of Positive Secrecy: Benevolent Effects on Mental Well-being


In a world that thrives on connectivity and shared experiences, the act of sharing good news with others has become almost instinctual. A survey involving 500 individuals revealed that a staggering 76% of respondents claimed that their immediate response to receiving good news would be to share it with someone.

This inclination to share positive experiences is not merely a social convention; studies suggest that sharing positive events contributes to various interpersonal benefits, enhancing one’s ability to savor life’s highs and fostering increased attention and appreciation for positive experiences (Gable & Reis, 2010; Gable et al., 2004).

However, amidst this prevailing norm, a fascinating phenomenon has emerged – the deliberate decision to keep positive information a secret. While conventional wisdom suggests that sharing good news is universally beneficial, recent research challenges this assumption. The concept of positive secrecy, defined as the intention to keep positive information undisclosed, introduces a new perspective that contradicts the established belief that secrecy is inherently burdensome (Critcher & Ferguson, 2014; Gable & Reis, 2010; Gable et al., 2004; Larson et al., 2015; Quinn & Chaudoir, 2009; Slepian et al., 2017).

The Meaning of Secrecy

Historically, secrecy has been conceptualized as a mentally taxing process, where individuals expend cognitive resources to inhibit the disclosure of information (Lane & Wegner, 1995). However, recent research challenges this traditional view, emphasizing that secrecy involves more than mere concealment. The intention to keep information hidden, occurring well before the need to actively conceal arises, is a crucial aspect of secrecy. In fact, the majority of the secrecy experience extends beyond moments of active concealment, with individuals frequently contemplating their secrets during mind-wandering episodes (Slepian et al., 2017).

Deconstructing the negative effects of secrecy, it becomes evident that it is not the act of concealment itself that proves detrimental, but rather how individuals reflect on and consider their secrets during moments of private pondering (Slepian & Koch, 2021; Slepian et al., 2017). The mind’s freedom to roam during these periods allows for a deeper exploration of the implications and meanings attached to the hidden information. Unlike during active concealment, where attention is primarily focused on preventing disclosure, private pondering provides an opportunity for individuals to reflect on the broader significance of the secret (Critcher & Ferguson, 2014; Slepian, 2022).

Positive Secrecy: A New Paradigm

Contrary to the prevailing narrative that secrecy is universally depleting, the current research challenges this assumption by exploring the idea that the meaning attributed to some secrets, specifically positive secrets, may yield psychological benefits rather than causing harm (Slepian et al., 2019). Positive secrecy involves intentionally keeping positively valenced information hidden from others, and the current work delves into the psychological implications of this intentional act of withholding good news.

Potential Benefits of Positive Secrecy

While traditional perspectives on secrecy focus on its cognitive costs, the study of positive secrecy suggests that the meaning individuals attach to their secrets may guide their psychological effects (Slepian et al., 2019). Rather than being inherently depleting and burdensome, positive secrecy may offer a unique set of benefits, especially in fostering feelings of energy for the secret holder.

The decision to keep positive information a secret could be seen as a protective mechanism, allowing individuals to savor the positive experience without external influences. Unlike negative secrets that tend to draw the mind to negative and harmful places during private pondering (Slepian & Koch, 2021), positive secrets may contribute to a sense of joy, anticipation, and personal accomplishment during these reflective moments.

Moreover, positive secrecy might serve as a tool for managing expectations and avoiding external pressures. In a society where the sharing of positive news often leads to heightened expectations and potential scrutiny, choosing to keep positive information under wraps may provide a respite from external demands and allow individuals to bask in their accomplishments without external interference.

The Meaning of Secrecy

In the realm of human emotions and interpersonal dynamics, secrecy has long been a subject of fascination and study. Traditionally, the focus has been on the impact of negative secrets—those laden with embarrassment, objectionability, or unpleasantness. However, a new frontier in the exploration of secrecy emerges, one that sheds light on the positive aspects of keeping things hidden.

Positive Secrets: An Unexplored Terrain

The conventional narrative on secrecy rarely delves into the realm of positivity. From marriage proposals to surprise gifts, positive secrets form a unique category of concealed information. Unlike their negative counterparts, positive secrets hold the potential to invigorate and energize individuals. This chapter seeks to unravel the intricacies of positive secrets, exploring the psychological underpinnings that make them a source of vitality.

Energizing Positivity

At the core of the positive secret phenomenon lies the concept of energy—a positive activation that manifests as feeling alive, alert, active, and invigorated. While negative secrets have been associated with fatigue, positive secrets seem to defy this trend, providing a surge of positive energy. The key to understanding this lies in the nature of positive emotions and the way individuals engage with them.

Research indicates that savoring positive experiences intensifies positive feelings. Positive secrets, by their very nature, encourage individuals to savor the information, reflect on its meaning, and anticipate joyful reactions upon revealing the secret. The resulting positive affect generated through this process becomes a potent source of energy. Prior studies affirm that positive affect strongly predicts subjective feelings of energy, establishing a direct link between positivity and vitality.

Motivational Underpinnings of Positive Secrets

Beyond the content of positive secrets, an exploration of their motivational underpinnings unveils a fascinating dimension of secrecy. Motivation scholars, who traditionally categorize motivation as intrinsic or extrinsic, posit that positive secrets are inherently driven by intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation, characterized by engaging in an activity for its inherent enjoyment, aligns closely with the nature of positive secrets. Unlike extrinsic motivation, which involves performing a task for external rewards or to avoid punishment, positive secrets are propelled by internal satisfaction and the joy of keeping something personally rewarding hidden. This intrinsic motivation to keep positive information under wraps sets positive secrets apart from other types of secrets.

The Continuum of Motivation

A continuum ranging from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation provides a framework for understanding the motivational spectrum behind positive secrets. While other secrets may lean towards extrinsic motivation, driven by external demands and pressures, positive secrets gravitate towards the intrinsic end of the spectrum.

The agency of the secret keeper becomes paramount in understanding the motivation behind positive secrets. The choice to keep positive information secret is often autonomously made, allowing individuals to experience competence as they successfully implement their choice—demonstrating mastery, a condition necessary for intrinsic motivation. This perspective emphasizes that positive secrets are not merely about the content but also about the internal motivations that drive individuals to keep them concealed.

Self-Concordance: The Intrinsic Nature of Positive Secrets

The term “self-concordance” emerges as a defining characteristic of positive secrets. Self-concordant goals, pursued due to personal interest or aligned with personal convictions, are considered integrated with the self. Positive secrets, by their intrinsic nature, align with the principles of self-concordance, contributing to increased well-being.

Even when keeping a positive secret denies individuals the external reactions to its positive content, the personal value and enjoyment derived from keeping the secret can still enhance well-being. This motivational perspective opens the door to interpreting positive secrecy in diverse contexts, encompassing various types of positive secrets and the myriad goals behind keeping them hidden.

Diverse Manifestations of Positive Secrets

The motivational perspective allows for a nuanced understanding of positive secrecy across different scenarios. Whether it be surprises, good news, or personal ambitions, the intrinsic motivation behind keeping positive secrets applies to a myriad of situations. A person valuing humility may choose to conceal an achievement, while someone cherishing personal freedom may opt to keep an ambition hidden. The joy of savoring an experience in private, free from external pressures, exemplifies the intrinsic motivation that unites these diverse examples of positive secrets.

Discussion – Unraveling the Energizing Dynamics of Positive Secrets

In this chapter, we delve into the implications and nuances uncovered through our exploration of positive secrets and their impact on individuals’ energy levels. Our research has shed light on the intriguing interplay between secrecy, motivation, and the subjective experience of vitality. As we navigate through the key findings, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of the motivational underpinnings of positive secrets and their unique position on the continuum of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

The Energizing Power of Positive Secrets

Our investigation began by acknowledging that the sharing of positive information, while typically a source of joy and energy, can also take the form of a secret. Surprisingly, we discovered that positive information, when kept secret, possesses a heightened energizing effect compared to when openly shared. This effect persisted even when accounting for positive affect and the intention to share, suggesting that the act of keeping positive information to oneself holds an intrinsic power to invigorate.

Autonomy and the Choice of Secrecy

Distinguishing positive secrets from their negative counterparts, we proposed that positive secrets are more likely to be a result of personal choice rather than external pressures. Study 2 provided evidence supporting this hypothesis, revealing that positive secrets are particularly energizing when the secrecy is a matter of personal autonomy. This aligns with existing research linking intrinsic motivation to feelings of vitality.

Positive Secrets vs. Other Secrets

In comparing positive secrets to other types of secrets, we found that positive secrets were more autonomously chosen than externally imposed, even when compared to secrets of unspecified valence. This not only reinforces the idea that positive secrets are distinct in their motivational underpinnings but also emphasizes the importance of autonomy in contributing to the energizing effect of positive secrets.

The Intricate Nature of Intrinsic Motivation

While Studies 3 and 4 utilized a binary measure of motivation, Study 5 provided a more nuanced understanding by separately assessing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The results indicated that positive secrets are characterized by less extrinsic motivation, positioning them closer to the purer form of intrinsic motivation. This insight challenges the notion that all secrets involve external constraints, showcasing positive secrets as a unique and less externally controlled form of motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation as an Energy Drain

Our findings consistently pointed to extrinsic motivation as a potential adversary to energy. Positive secrets, by being less externally controlled, manage to sidestep the energy-depleting effects associated with extrinsic motivation. The data from Study 5 particularly highlighted that positive secrets, on average, lean more towards intrinsic motivation, thereby contributing to the sustained feelings of vitality.

Implications and Future Directions

This exploration into the dynamics of positive secrets offers valuable insights into the motivational intricacies underlying secrecy. Understanding the energizing power of positive secrets, driven by autonomy and intrinsic motivation, opens avenues for future research. Exploring the real-world implications, such as the impact of positive secrets on interpersonal relationships and well-being, could provide further depth to our understanding.

To Share or Not to Share: Unraveling the Dynamics of Positive Secrets

In the age of digital interconnectedness, the impulse to share good news has become a societal norm. The act of sharing positive information, known as capitalization, has been explored extensively in psychological literature (Gable & Reis, 2010). With the advent of social media platforms, individuals have unprecedented opportunities to broadcast their triumphs to a wider audience (Barasch, 2020; Goh et al., 2019; Vermeulen et al., 2018). Yet, recent research challenges the conventional wisdom that the benefits of positive news sharing are universal, suggesting that the decision to keep positive secrets may hold its own set of advantages (Studies 1 and 5).

The foundational nature of sharing positive information has been underscored as a key rule for fostering friendships and enhancing relationship quality and satisfaction (Argyle & Henderson, 1984; Gable et al., 2006). However, the latest findings indicate that the positive effects of keeping good news under wraps are not merely a byproduct of the intention to share (Studies 1 and 5). This insight prompts a reassessment of the age-old question: to share or not to share?

It appears that the act of sharing, whether the news is positive or negative, can be personally beneficial (Brans et al., 2013; Lepore et al., 2000). However, the evidence leans more consistently toward the benefits of sharing positive information (Barasch, 2020). The dynamics of these interactions, however, hinge on the reactions of the individuals involved (Afifi & Afifi, 2020; Slepian & Moulton-Tetlock, 2019). Enthusiasm surrounding good news can be dampened if met with disinterest or if potential downsides are pointed out (Gable & Reis, 2010).

In the realm of positive secrets, the decision to withhold may be influenced by extrinsic factors such as the anticipated reaction of the recipient. In such cases, individuals might opt to keep their positive news hidden to avoid potential negative responses, sacrificing the typical benefits associated with sharing positive information. This interpersonal lens sheds light on the complex interplay between personal fulfillment and social dynamics.

Future research in this area could further explore the nuances of positive secrets and delve deeper into the motivations behind keeping such information concealed. Understanding the interplay between personal satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, and the dynamics of sharing positive news is crucial for unraveling the complexities of human communication in the digital age.

In conclusion, while the act of sharing positive information remains a cornerstone of social interaction, recent research suggests that the decision to keep positive secrets is not only valid but may carry its own unique set of advantages. The interplay between personal satisfaction and social dynamics opens new avenues for exploration, challenging us to reconsider the conventional wisdom surrounding the sharing of positive news in the modern era.

Subjective Feelings of Energy

The exploration of subjective feelings of energy has gained significant attention, particularly through recent theoretical advancements that shed light on the determinants of these feelings. A prevailing perspective suggests that the subjective sense of energy is intricately tied to the attributions one makes for a given task. Unlike conventional notions that associate fatigue with the depletion of biological energy reserves, this emerging viewpoint proposes that fatigue arises from the psychological perception of effort expended on undesirable tasks, leading to a desire to disengage (Kurzban et al., 2013; Saunders & Inzlicht, 2016).

Link to Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

This contemporary perspective aligns with classic theories of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Research by Nix et al. (1999) demonstrated that framing an action as meeting external demands increased the perception of fatigue, in contrast to when the same action was framed as autonomous and intrinsically motivated. This indicates that a task, which might otherwise be fatiguing, can become energizing when undertaken with intrinsic motivation. Study 2 in the presented research echoes this concept, revealing that the framing of positive news as known to others due to external pressures induced fatigue, while internal reasons for secrecy were energizing.

Task Engagement and Feelings of Energy

The research underscores the pivotal role of how individuals construe task engagement in determining feelings of energy (Job et al., 2010). While previous studies have highlighted the restorative effects of positive affect, the current work extends this understanding by demonstrating that the effects of positive secrets on energy levels surpass the influence of positive affect alone (Egan et al., 2015; Job et al., 2010; Tice et al., 2007).

The Power of Mindset in Secrecy

A noteworthy implication of the study is the influence of mindset on the experience of secrecy. Traditionally viewed as burdensome, secrecy can be either fatiguing or energizing depending on the reasons behind it. Positive information unknown to others due to external pressures induces fatigue, while autonomously chosen secrecy is energizing. The potential for changing one’s mindset, even regarding more conventionally negative secrets, emerges as a prospect for further investigation.

Future Research Directions

The study prompts avenues for future research, particularly in exploring how mindsets interact with stressors to influence feelings of energy and vitality, not only in the context of secrecy but also in broader domains (Luke et al., 2012; Nix et al., 1999; Ryan & Bernstein, 2004; Ryan & Deci, 2008; Ryan & Frederick, 1997; Saunders & Inzlicht, 2016). Additionally, the study leaves open questions about the dynamics of concealing positive secrets within social interactions, acknowledging the possibility of individuals feeling taxed and burdened during such episodes.

Limitations and Generalizability

Acknowledging its limitations, the study primarily involves online-recruited U.S. participants with internet literacy. While efforts have been made to justify the broad generalizability of the findings across diverse age ranges and contexts within the United States, cultural differences remain a potential variable that could impact the results. Future research endeavors should address these potential variations by exploring the cross-cultural applicability of the observed effects.


In conclusion, the investigation into subjective feelings of energy contributes to a nuanced understanding of the psychological determinants of fatigue and vitality. The research emphasizes the intricate interplay between task engagement, motivation, and mindset, offering valuable insights into how individuals can navigate and potentially transform their subjective experiences of energy in various contexts, opening avenues for future exploration and application.

reference link : https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000352


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