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5 reasons talking to yourself is good for you
Often seen as stigmatic, talking to yourself is a common habit that can make you a better you.
- Talking to yourself is a healthy, widespread tendency among children and adults.
- Research suggests the practice supplies a bevy of benefits, from improved mental performance to greater emotional control.
- Self-talk is most beneficial when it combines thought and action or reinforces an instructional framework.
Our culture views talking to yourself as a habit for eccentrics. Movies depict unhinged characters through herky-jerky self-mutterings. When people see an approaching pedestrian disagreeing with himself, they cross the street. And when a friend catches you in a solo performance of your thoughts, you clam up with an expression of sheepish guilt.
True, some mental disorders do manifest the symptom of self-talk, such as schizophrenia. But the habit is extensive among the mentally sound, too.
"Talking out loud can be an extension of [one's] silent inner talk, caused when a certain motor command is triggered involuntarily," explains Paloma Mari-Beffa, senior lecturer in psychology at Bangor University. "The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget observed that toddlers begin to control their actions as soon as they start developing language. When approaching a hot surface, the toddler will typically say 'hot, hot' out loud and move away. This kind of [behavior] can continue into adulthood."
Talking to yourself, when employed in the proper context, can even provide an arrangement of mental boosts.
Self-talk augments cognitive performance
Studies show that talking to yourself can improve your concentration and task performance.
Research suggests self-talk may help your brain perform better. A study published in Acta Psychologica asked participants to read instructions and then carry out the corresponding task. Some participants had to read their instructions silently, others out loud.
Researchers then measured concentration and task performance. Their results showed that reading aloud helped sustain concentration and enhance performance.
Mari-Beffa, one of the study's authors, notes: "Talking out loud, when the mind is not wandering, could actually be a sign of high cognitive functioning. Rather than being mentally ill, it can make you intellectually more competent. The stereotype of the mad scientist talking to themselves, lost in their own inner world, might reflect the reality of a genius who uses all the means at their disposal to increase their brainpower."
Additional research backs up those results. In one study, participants completed item-finding tasks faster when talking themselves through it, suggesting an improvement in visual processing. Others have observed children using self-talk to master complex tasks, such as tying shoelaces.
Self-encouragement for the win
Tennis players who engaged in encouraging self-talk improved their confidence and game performance.
Encouragement spurs success. It's the power of self-confidence and self-esteem, and it works even when that encouragement comes from oneself.
A study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise had 72 tennis players take part in five rounds of play: one baseline assessment, three training sessions, and a final round. Researchers divided the players into two groups. Though both groups followed the same training program, only the experimental one was asked to practice self-talk.
By the final assessment, the experimental group demonstrated heightened self-confidence and reduced anxiety. The self-talkers also improved their game.
These performance-boosting benefits aren't just for tennis players either. A meta-analysis looked at the validity of the self-talk strategy for augmenting athletic feats. Totaling 32 sport studies and 62 effect sizes, it showed a positive, though moderate, effect size.
This effect only holds true if one's self-encouragement remains, well, encouraging. As Dr. Julia Harper, an occupational therapist, told NBC News:
"If we're talking to ourselves negatively, research suggests that we'll more likely guide ourselves to a negative outcome. However, when self-talk is neutral—as in a statement like 'What do I need to do?'—or positive, such as 'I can get this done,' then the outcome is much more effective."
And at least one study found that participants with low self-esteem felt worse when engaged in self-talk, even when that talk was positive.
Talk yourself down
First, remove yourself from the bad situation; then talk yourself down. It's many people's go-to strategy for dealing with negative emotions, and anecdotal evidence suggests it works to a near-miraculous degree. Just ask any parent or, for that matter, your own.
Scientific research backs up this parental game plan, but with a twist. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, talking to yourself in the third person is the most effective way to calm down.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers set up two experiments. In the first, they hooked up participants to an electroencephalograph and then showed them images that varied from neutral to disturbing.
They asked one group to respond to the images in the first person, the other in the third person. They found the third-person group decreased their emotional brain activity much faster.
The second experiment had participants reflect on painful experiences while connected to a functional MRI machine. Participants who did so in the third person showed less brain activity in regions associated with painful experiences, suggesting better emotional regulation.
"Essentially, we think referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similar to how they think about others, and you can see evidence for this in the brain," Jason Moser, lead author and professor of psychology at Michigan State University, said in a statement. "That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions."
An exercise in self-control
Talking to yourself does more than put the lid back on negative motions; it can keep that lid from coming off in the first place. Research out of the University of Toronto Scarborough, also published in Acta Psychologica, suggests that talking to yourself is a form of emotional self-control.
Researchers asked participants to perform a simple test on a computer. If the display showed a specific symbol, the participants were tasked with pressing a button. If any other symbol appeared, they were to refrain. However, one group was told to repeat a single word continuously throughout, effectively blocking access to their "inner voice."
That group was more impulsive than the group with access their inner voice. Without self-directed messages, they could not exercise the same self-control.
"We give ourselves messages all the time with the intent of controlling ourselves—whether that's telling ourselves to keep running when we're tired, to stop eating even though we want one more slice of cake, or to refrain from blowing up on someone in an argument," Alexa Tullett, lead author on the study, said in a release. "We wanted to find out whether talking to ourselves in this 'inner voice' actually helps."
Reading aloud reinforces memory
One study showed that reading aloud can improve memory retention.
Do you ever read a fascinating fact and think, "I've got to remember that one"? Then when the perfect opportunity arises, you find a fact-shaped hole in your mind where that information should be?
A study published in Memory may have your solution: Read it out loud.
Researchers tested four methods for retaining written information. They asked participants to read silently, read aloud, listen to someone else read, and listen to a recording of themselves reading. They found participants who read the information out loud retained it best.
"This study confirms that learning and memory benefit from active involvement," Colin M. MacLeod, chair of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo and co-author of the study, said in a release. "When we add an active measure or a production element to a word, that word becomes more distinct in long-term memory, and hence more memorable."
Mastering the art of (self) conversation
Research has shown that the mind doesn't differentiate between talking to yourself out loud or in your head. You should engage in whatever form of self-talk is most comfortable for you, so long as the act is conscious and in the proper context.
The most beneficial forms of self-talk are either instructional or link thought and action. They help you approach the task at hand, take you through each step, and encourage you along the way. Random, context-inappropriate ramblings are far less beneficial and may be a sign of an unfocused mind or some deeper mental anguish.
For example, there are times when self-talk is not beneficial. Telling yourself to stop thinking and go back to sleep is probably the very thought bouncing you from dreamland. Speaking the command aloud like a mantra is even worse—and will certainly not endear you to your partner come 6 a.m.
But like any skill, to truly receive the boons, you'll need to master the art of conversation with yourself.
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Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>