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

a man staring at a wall of ideas, brainstorming

Studies show that talking to yourself can improve your concentration and task performance.

Photo: Pexels

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.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

kids reading books at school

One study showed that reading aloud can improve memory retention.

Photo: Kaylee Dubois/U.S. Air Force

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.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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