Talk to Yourself? Did You Know It Can Heal You?

Let's admit it.  Talking to yourself may not be such a great thing when you're sitting on a bus, or on a conference call.  But a new study says it can help you not throw your kid through the window when he cracks up the car, or make your husband sleep on the couch when he forgets your birthday.

The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than what you would use for first-person self-talk – the way people normally talk to themselves, according to

A first-of-its-kind study led by psychology researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan indicates that such third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control.

(I suppose it's what kind of talking to yourself you do!  Swearing, like I do, when I can't find my cell phone, probably isn't what they had in mind.)

“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,” said Jason Moser, MSU associate professor of psychology. “That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions.”

How can you do it?  Simple.  Instead of thinking, I'm such an idiot for leaving it on top of the car (which I did, last summer), say something like, "Why is Debbie upset?" Even though I think talking like that to myself might make me run for the Xanax, supposedly, it does the trick.

In an experiment, led by U-M psychology professor Ethan Kross, who directs the Emotion and Self-Control Lab, participants reflected on painful experiences from their past using first- and third- person language while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or FMRI.

Participants displayed less activity in a brain region that is commonly implicated in reflecting on painful emotional experiences when using third-person self-talk, suggesting better emotional regulation. Further, third person self-talk required no more effort-related brain activity than using first person. 

“What’s really exciting here,” Kross says, “is that the brain data from these kinds of experiments suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation.
“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.”

Hey.  It beats paying for therapy.  


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