To Reveal or Not to Reveal a Secret: Navigating the Conflict between Honesty and Loyalty
43 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 22, 2021
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: Suggested Citation