Would you rather tell the police officer that pulls you over you were going 10 mph over the speed limit or admit to the 30 mph you were actually going over the speed limit?
Partial confessions seem like the best of both worlds: we can ease our feelings of guilt and still get away with a little unethical behaviour.
But a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology this month analysed the extent to which people confessed to wrongdoing.
Here’s how the authors defined a partial confession:
If a person stole $US100, admitting to stealing $US100 would constitute a full confession. Claiming to have stolen only $US50, on the other hand, would constitute a partial confession. Critical to our view, we consider confessions on a spectrum ranging from not confessing at all to fully confessing, with a range of partial confessions stretching between these two ends.
First, participants in the study were asked to recall times when they did something unethical and whether they confessed, partially confessed, or did not confess at all. Some categories of confessions are more likely to be partial than others, as you can see in the chart below:
They also analysed how this partial confession impacted their emotions, and found that in the lab this partial confession made participants feel worse than either a full confession, or no confession at all.
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