Third person inner monologue is good for more than just sounding cool, say scientists

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Referring to yourself in the third person might make you less imbalanced, scientists from Michigan State University announced in this month's issue of Scientific Reports. A dual-experiment study in which brain activity was monitored in two different ways showed that people who reflected on emotionally intense events using the third person were less subject to those emotions than those who thought of themselves in the first person.

"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 Michigan State University psychology professor Jason Moser. "That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions."

In the first experiment, participants were asked to view disturbing pictures while their brains were being monitored using event-related potential (ERP). One group of participants was asked to think about their emotions in the first person, as in "I feel afraid," and the other group in the third person, as in, "Mary feels afraid," the way they would structure thoughts about a separate person. Findings showed that emotional responses dissipated faster in the third-person group, and researchers reported that using the third person to discuss emotions seemed to take more effort.

In the second experiment, participants were asked to think about painful memories from their own lives while their brains were monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Again, one group of participants was asked to think of the events in the first person and the other in the third. Assessments of the participants' brain activity indicated less emotional reaction in the third-person group.

"What's really exciting here," said Professor Ethan Kross, who ran the second experiment, "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."

The study participants were male and female college undergraduates with a median age between eighteen and nineteen years.


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