Talking to Yourself in the Third Person Can Lower Stress and Negative Emotions

A new study finds that talking to yourself in the third person may help deal with stress.

Talking to Yourself in the Third Person Can Lower Stress and Negative Emotions
credit: Getty Images


If you are feeling stressed, try talking to yourself silently in the third person. That can help you control difficult emotions, says the first-of-its kind study by psychology researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) and the University of Michigan.

What they found is that talking to yourself in the third person during stressful moments may work better than giving yourself a first-person talk. Let’s say your name is John and you are very upset. Asking “Why is John upset?” would cause less emotional reaction than “Why am I upset?” and allow you to start dealing with the underlying emotions.

Jason Moser, MSU associate professor of psychology, explained why this approach works:

“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,” pointed out Moser. “That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions.”

The study involved two experiments, with one requiring participants to react to neutral or disturbing images in both the first and third person. Their brain activity was monitored during that time by an electroencephalograph. When the subjects were shown disturbing photos like a man holding a gun to their heads, their emotional brain activity decreased quickly (within 1 second) if they they referred to themselves in the third person.

The researchers also found employing third-person speech is no more taxing on your brain than talking in first person. In comparison, other forms of emotional regulation, like mindfulness, require considerable mental effort, said Moser.

Another experiment had participants recounting painful experiences from their past, using first and third person language, while they were undergoing fMRI imaging. 

Similarly, when talking in third person, participants had less activity in the brain region used for reflecting on painful emotional situations. 

“What’s really exciting here is that the brain data from these two complimentary experiments suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation, “ said University of Michigan psychology professor Ethan Kross. “If this ends up being true – we won’t know until more research is done – there are lots of important implications these findings have for our basic understanding of how self-control works, and for how to help people control their emotions in daily life.”

You can read the study here, published in Scientific Reports.

Were the ancient Egyptians black or white? Scientists now know

This is the first successful DNA sequencing on ancient Egyptian mummies, ever.

 

Ancient Egyptian Statues

Getty Images
Surprising Science

Egyptologists, writers, scholars, and others, have argued the race of the ancient Egyptians since at least the 1970's. Some today believe they were Sub-Saharan Africans. We can see this interpretation portrayed in Michael Jackson's 1991 music video for “Remember the Time" from his "Dangerous" album. The video, a 10-minute mini-film, includes performances by Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson.

Keep reading Show less

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 09: Diego Valeri #8 of Portland Timbers reacts after missing a penalty kick in the second half against the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park on May 09, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less

Changing a brain to save a life: how far should rehabilitation go?

What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?

Credit: Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
  • There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
  • Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

How to fool a shark using magnets

A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.

Quantcast