To Reveal or Not to Reveal a Secret: Navigating the Conflict between Honesty and Loyalty

43 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2021

See all articles by Eric VanEpps

Eric VanEpps

University of Utah - Department of Marketing

Einav Hart

George Mason University - School of Business; University of Pennsylvania - Wharton School

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department

Date Written: April 22, 2021

Abstract

Secrets create moral dilemmas. Individuals who know others’ secrets face a choice: to be honest (and reveal the secret) or to be loyal (and keep the secret). We introduce a triadic model of secret-keeping involving a focal actor who knows a partner’s secret, a partner who has a secret, and an audience likely interested in knowing the secret information; the actor faces conflicting obligations: to be honest with the audience or to be loyal to the partner. Across four pre-registered experiments (N=1,514), we show that observers judge actors who privilege honesty (and reveal the secret) to be more moral but less likable than actors who privilege loyalty (and keep the secret). The nature of the secret information moderates these interpersonal judgments. When the secret information involves unethical behavior, observers judge actors who disclose secrets to be more moral (and less likable) than they judge actors who keep secrets, but when the secret information does not involve unethical behavior, observers judge actors who disclose secrets to be less moral (and much less likable) than actors who keep secrets.

Keywords: Secrets, Honesty, Loyalty, Disclosing information, Morality judgments

JEL Classification: D01, D03, D74, D81, D84

Suggested Citation

VanEpps, Eric and Hart, Einav and Hart, Einav and Schweitzer, Maurice E., To Reveal or Not to Reveal a Secret: Navigating the Conflict between Honesty and Loyalty (April 22, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3832042 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3832042

Eric VanEpps

University of Utah - Department of Marketing ( email )

1645 E. Campus Center Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-9304
United States

Einav Hart (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Wharton School ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://EinavH.art

George Mason University - School of Business ( email )

Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

HOME PAGE: http://einavh.art

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-4776 (Phone)
215-898-3664 (Fax)

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