To confess or not to confess?
Every politician caught in a financial, voter fraud, sex, or any other kind of scandal faces this question. For sex scandals, where the odds of surviving are virtually zero, politicians have to decide whether to leave office or attempt damage control.
As soon as the Craiglist Congressman’s photo became public, Rep. Chris Lee resigned. When ABC News called Rep. Mark Foley (pictured above) to ask about salacious e-mails to Congressional pages, Foley resigned within hours.
But during the 2012 presidential primaries, candidate Herman Cain unequivocally denied he had had affairs with the women who came forward to accuse him. After the fourth accusation, Cain suspended his campaign, but he never admitted any guilt.
Cain hasn’t commented on these accusations, so voters don’t know how he felt about being accused. But psychological research suggests that in some cases, denying bad behavior can make the accused feel better than confessing.
In a recent series of studies, psychologists asked volunteers to complete a task where they could cheat and win extra money. After the task was finished, the researchers asked the participants if they had cheated and if they did, how they felt about it.
The cheaters’ responses surprised the researchers. People who confessed to cheating said they felt better after they confessed. But people who denied they had cheated—when the researchers knew that they had—also said they felt better afterward. It was the people who only partially admitted their cheating who ended up feeling worse.
So, extending the results of this study to the political world, politicians caught in a scandal will feel better if they either confess totally—as did Lee and Foley—or deny totally—as did Cain.
But a politician who only partially confesses—like Rep. Anthony Weiner—will not feel as good as full confessors or deniers. When the sexting scandal broke, Weiner first told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he couldn’t be certain if that were him in those pictures of a man in his underpants. Two weeks later, Weiner confessed and resigned from office.
But Weiner didn’t seem to learn from his mistake. He obviously wasn’t fully confessing since voters later found out he was still sexting while running for mayor of New York.
According to the researchers, former Rep. Weiner should be feeling better about himself now that it appears he’s fully confessed. Voters don’t know if Weiner has anything else he wants to get off his chest. If he does, he might feel better if he confesses in the column that he’s just agreed to write for Business Insider. But feeling better or not, voters aren’t likely to forgive.
Photo Source: Politico