It’s an extreme and heartbreaking depiction of the distress you feel when you’re acting in a way that doesn’t really feel like you. (A lesser example might be, say, pretending that, yes, you’d just love to attend that bachelorette party in Las Vegas.) In an intriguing new study published in Psychological Science, a trio of researchers led by Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino claim to have uncovered one reason why very few of us enjoy behaving in ways that feel false for long stretches of time: To our minds, authenticity may be a moral imperative.

Across five experiments, Gino and her team, which included Maryam Kouchaki of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia University, found that when people are nudged into recalling past experiences where their behaviors felt inauthentic, they tended to feel more immoral and impure than those who’d remembered a time they behaved authentically. In one online experiment, for example, the researchers asked 269 participants to write about a time in their personal or professional lives when they did something that made them feel, to some degree, fake. Afterwards, the study volunteers were asked about their current feelings of impurity, rating how “dirty” or “tainted” they felt on a 7-point scale. Those in the inauthentic condition reported stronger feelings of impurity (3.56 out of 7 on average) compared to those who’d been thinking about a time they did something that made them feel true to themselves (1.51 on average). The finding echoes previous work by University of Michigan psychologists, which also suggested a link between immorality and literal feelings of impurity. (In that study, after people were told to tell a lie on a voice mail, they were more likely to express an interest in mouthwash in a subsequent and ostensibly unrelated survey on consumer products.)

Read the full article "Why Hiding Your True Self Feels So Terrible" at New York Magazine.