Hiding chocolate stashes or online purchases from a partner? ‘Guilty’ purchases may have benefits, study finds

Do you have a secret stash of chocolates that you keep from your partner, or do you intentionally keep your spouse from knowing about something you bought online? New research indicates that small but commonly hidden actions such as these may be good for the relationship.

In the first known study of the emotional, behavioral and relational aspects of secret consumer behavior, researchers at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, the University of Connecticut and Duke University found that guilt from secret consumption often leads to greater relationship investment.

“In our study, we found that 90% of people have recently kept everyday consumer behaviors a secret from a close other — like a friend or spouse — even though they also report that they don’t think their partner would care if they knew about it,” said Kelley Gullo Wight, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kelley School and one of two lead authors on the study. “Even though most of these secret acts are quite ordinary, they can still — positively — impact the relationship. The positive impact is an important piece.”

Most previous research on secrets has focused on those that hide significant and negative information, such as trauma or extramarital affairs. That research has generally found negative outcomes of secrets.

In their research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Wight and her co-authors explored how common it was for people not to tell significant others about their everyday consumption behavior and what the consequences were.

They found that keeping secrets about mundane consumption — such as sneaking pizza or a Big Mac or watching ahead on a TV show — can lead to slight feelings of guilt but also can drive people to want to invest more in their relationships, which is a positive effect.

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