The role of imagined interaction in individuals' secret revelations : a focus on targets' anticipated reactions
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Imagined interactions involve internal dialogues and cognitive processes that may help individuals envision contingency plans for managing secret information (Honeycutt, 1999; Richards & Sillars, 2014). As the word “interaction” indicates, perceived reactions can play a substantial role in secret information management (e.g., Caughlin, Afifi, Carpenter-Theune, & Miller, 2005; Kelly, 2002). Indeed, research by Cole, Kemeny, and Taylor (1997) strongly suggests that decisions to reveal private information (e.g., sexual orientation) often depend on individuals’ perceptions of others’ social reactions. The literature on imagined interaction has been advanced in various contexts (e.g., conflict management, aggressive teasing, and listening competence). However, scant attention to date has been directed toward the role of the context of secret revelations and the role of interactants’ reactions. Based on the research on imagined interactions (Honeycutt, 1999, 2003, 2010), this project sought to understand the mechanism of imagined secret revelations with a focus on targets’ reactions. Guided by the theoretical framework of imagined interaction, this project was conducted in two phases. In the first phase of investigation, a total of 618 participants were included, and a list of targets’ anticipated reactions was generated. In the second phase (N = 496), the list of reactions was refined, and links between the imagined disclosure and individuals’ perceptions of secrets, likelihood of revelation, as well as relational concerns were confirmed. Collectively, the results provided a general support for the proposed models. In particular, the findings highlighted that the positive and frequent rehearsal of imagined disclosure increased the likelihood of actual revelation in the near future. Further, the results of the study yielded nine factors characterizing the reactions people anticipated from their target. These factors were, in theoretically interesting ways, associated with individuals’ perceptions of the secret, their likelihood of revelation, and relationship satisfaction with the target. Findings from the study lend credibility to enveloping the construct of imagined disclosure as a constructive and mindful process of secret information management.