Secret Keeping

Nearly three decades ago, Psychologist James Pennebaker discovered a shocking correlation between secrets and health outcomes – that people who kept more secrets were dealing with more health issues. Today, secrets are generally considered bad. But in today’s episode, we’re going to discuss creative secret keepers. These people use secrets to form relationships, to explore worlds they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access, even to build new lives for themselves until – well – the secret’s out. Today we’ll explore what opportunities open up when someone keeps a secret, and what happens when that secret is revealed.


Host: Chelsea Davis

Producers: Rosie La Puma, Eileen Williams, Will Rogers, Claire Schoen, and Jonah Willihnganz

Featuring: James Pennebaker, Jackie Chan and Justin Krasner-Karpen. Thanks also to Preet Kaur, Natacha Ruck, Joshua Hoyt, Tess McCarthy, Alexander Muscat, Lilly Gill, Shara Tonn, Dustin Dienhart, Christy Hartman, Jake Warga.

Music used during transitions: Podington Bear, Revolution Void

Image via Flickr

Release Date: 21 October 2015


Intro Story: Unhealthy Secrets

Decades ago, James Pennebaker found that adults’ health problems are correlated with sexual trauma in early childhood. This wasn’t a surprise: everybody knows it’s not a good thing to be traumatized as a child. What surprised Pennebaker, though, in the health outcomes he saw, was how long people had kept these experiences secret, and what happened when they found ways to open up.

Producers: Preet Kaur, Natacha Ruck, and Will Rogers

Featuring: James Pennebaker

Music: Chris Zabriskie

Image via Flickr


Story 1: Call in the Night

Anonymity is a dangerous thing. Studies of online comment sections have confirmed what we all know: people are meaner when they are anonymous. One study even found that just wearing dark sunglasses resulted in people behaving less generously. But sometimes anonymity can foster intimacy rather than boorishness. Two Stanford students signed up for an experiment in talking to strangers. They were paired to receive a middle of the night phone call. What happened on the call was up to them. The call shows how keeping one’s identity secret makes it easier to share other secrets, and secrets, after all, are the currency of intimacy.

Producer: Joshua Hoyt

Music: Bensound (Jazz Comedy), The Suger Puckin Ganstarers (Cozad), Revolution Void (Scattered Knowledge)

Image via Flickr

Link: Documentary Theatre performance about the same story, written and directed by Xandra Clark


Story 2: Rescinded

Ashley Hart endured a rough childhood with an abusive mother after her father died. A tough upbringing turned into a dark nightmare when a judge found her guilty of manslaughter in the case of her mother’s death. As a minor, Ashley had the right to keep her name unconnected from the incident. No secret is truly safe though, and her fight to turn her life around is haunted by the secret of her past.

Producers: Tess McCarthy and Eileen Williams, original by Tess McCarthy, Lilly Gill and Alexander Muscat

Featuring: Tess McCarthy

Music: Kevin Macleod (Colorless Aura, Pepper’s Theme, Water Lily)

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Story 3: Frankly Emma

Since the day she was born in 1841, Emma Edmonds has felt betrayed by her gender. Inspired by a cross-dressing heroine in a novel, Emma decides to leave behind everything she’s ever known at the age of 17 and take on a new secret identity. Adventure with us through her amazing true life story – complete with pirates, romance, battles and spies – while Emma tries to determine exactly what it means to be herself.

Producers: Rosie La Puma and Shara Tonn

Featuring: Eileen Williams and Justin Krasner-Karpen

Sounds: Jury Duty (“Howling Wind”), Rosie La Puma (Birds at Munger), Mike Koenig (“Sniper Fire Reload”), TheMSsoundeffects (“Warfare sound effect 9 – Civil war battle – close”), The Best Thing Since Twinkies (“Record Scratch”), (“Peeper Frogs Near Lake”) Music: Chris Zabriske (Cylinder Two, Is That You or Are You You), Jason Shaw (Running Waters, Back to the Woods, Hoedown), Podington Bear (PrettyBuild, Climbing the Mountain, Hearts Affluter), Gillicuddy (Adventure Darling), Rosie La Puma & Deborah Wicks La Puma (“Military March”)

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Research References: The Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier by Laura Gansler and Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse, and Spy: A Woman’s Adventures in the Union Army by S. Emma E. Edmonds

Additional Notes and Fun Facts:

You may have noticed in the story that Emma’s last name changes from beginning to end. Emma was born Sarah Emma Edmondson, but after she left the army, took on the name Emma Edmonds.

Like any biography, this portrait of Emma is far from complete. Interested in learning, for example, why Emma was labeled a deserter and denied a pension? Check out Emma’s page on


Story 4: A Change of Heart

A star student attributes his high school success to a friend who inspired him to change his entire life. The catch? He’s kept it a secret from her the entire time.

Producers: Chelsea Davis

Featuring: Jackie Chan

Music: Podington Bear (The Window, Kid Is Frangin Tight, Kingbeat 9, Tribe, Old Skin, Odyssey, Hearts Aflutter)

Image via Flickr