Criteria for revealing family secrets

Anita L. Vangelisti, John Patrick Caughlin, Lindsay Timmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Because revealing family secrets can have substantial influences on individuals and their interpersonal relationships, the criteria people use when they consider whether to divulge a family secret are quite important. The current study was conducted to explore these criteria and to examine the factors that encourage people to employ some criteria as opposed to others. In the first stage of the investigation, a list of criteria was generated and initial evidence was presented for an association between the criteria individuals reported using and the likelihood they would reveal a family secret. In the second stage, the list of criteria was refined, the link between the criteria and people's tendency to reveal a family secret was confirmed and factors associated with the use of some criteria over others were examined. The results of the study yielded 10 factors characterizing the criteria people used in deciding whether to divulge secret information about their family. These factors were, in theoretically interesting ways associated with individuals' tendency to reveal a family secret. Although the topic of people's secret was not related to any of the criteria, there were significant associations between several of the criteria and individuals perceptions of their secret. More specifically, people who closely identified with their secret and who saw their family secret as intimate or as negatively valenced were more likely to endorse a number of the criteria. Finally, the quality of individuals' relationship with the potential target of their disclosure was linked to the criteria they reported using. Feeling psychologically close to the target was associated with several of the criteria-suggesting that even those in close relationships are quite mindful of the conditions under which they divulge a family secret.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalCommunication Monographs
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics


Dive into the research topics of 'Criteria for revealing family secrets'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this