We live in a world that values justice; when a crime is committed, just punishment is expected to follow. Keeping one's misdeed secret therefore appears to be a strategic way to avoid (just) consequences. Yet, people may engage in self-punishment to right their own wrongs to balance their personal sense of justice. Thus, those who seek an escape from justice by keeping secrets may in fact end up serving that same justice on themselves (through self-punishment). Six studies demonstrate that thinking about secret (vs. confessed) misdeeds leads to increased self-punishment (increased denial of pleasure and seeking of pain). These effects were mediated by the feeling one deserved to be punished, moderated by the significance of the secret, and were observed for both self-reported and behavioral measures of self-punishment.
Slepian, Michael, and B. Bastian. "Truth or punishment: Secrecy and punishing the self." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 43, no. 11 (2017): 1596-1611.
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