Research reveals why people say things they later regret

Arousal increases self-disclosure.

A new study by the University of Melbourne suggests that people are bound to unveil data that they are usually cautious about concealing when they are increasingly awake and alert.

Scientists suggest that arousal is responsible for this. It causes people to say things automatically rather than think things through before speaking.

Dr Brent Coker from the Faculty of Business and Economics, who co-authored the study said, “Ironically, the times when we’re most awake and alert are also the times when we have to be very careful about what we say – like job interviews, media engagements, important work meetings, or even romantic encounters.”

The research paper outlines three of eight experiments conducted by Dr. Coker and co-author Professor Ann L. McGill from the University of Chicago.

The first study requested that participants composed a dating profile and found that ‘aroused’ people uncovered more embarrassing, emotional, private, and implicating information about themselves than the moderately loose individuals. A subsequent report on similar details found that the aroused participants’ profiles were less alluring for dating than those of the more relaxed members, proposing that revealing an excess of data likewise adversely affects people’s attractiveness.

In the second study, scientists observed online trolling behavior and how likely people are to reveal instances when they said mean or malicious things to others online. They found that people are more likely to disclose information one would not usually disclose when they are aroused.

The third study found that people are more likely to disclose highly personal information after physical exercise.

Dr. Coker said, “Saying the wrong thing in the wrong moment may create awkwardness, be offensive, damage trust, or harm perceptions towards our character. Politicians and CEOs seem to do it all the time. We need to make an extra effort to control what comes out of our mouths during times of stress – which might explain why so many people have arguments over Christmas.”

“The secret to increasing the accuracy of what we say is to try to adopt daily strategies to reduce stress since stress is related to arousal.”

“Consciously controlling your breathing and listening to chilled music are two strategies known to work. Then there are the more traditional strategies such as reducing how much coffee you drink, getting enough sleep, and eating well.”

“As any interrogator will tell you, there are limits to how much stress someone will take before they ‘spill the beans.’ Our research suggests that it doesn’t take very much stress at all before people say something they might later regret.”

The study is published in the journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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