Why referring to yourself in third person makes it easier to figure things out

Sounds weird but makes sense.

Start referring to yourself by your full name or dropping third person pronouns in general conversation and you might raise some eyebrows.

But if you’re looking for a simple and immediate tactic to help switch off from a spiral of negative thoughts, this might just do the job, according to a new study.

Published in Scientific Reports, the research (snappily titled ‘Third-person self-talking facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control’) investigates how ‘self-talk’ and internal monologues can impact upon how effectively we can control our thoughts and behaviour in situations that make us feel stressed or anxious.

As noted by the authors, the process of emotional regulation tends to be thought of as an “effortful” one: one that typically requires the influence of “cognitive control mechanisms”. According to the study, however, using the third person or one’s own name when engaging in ‘self talk’ can exert a “relatively effortless” form of control upon the emotions, one which does not require those cognitive mechanisms.

The rationale behind this observation is strikingly simple: to state the obvious, we typically use people’s names when referring to or thinking about other people. Thus, if we use our name when thinking about ourselves (instead of framing our thoughts around the ‘I’ pronoun) or use the ‘he’ or ‘she’ third person pronoun, we can think about a problem or situation in the more detached, calm manner we’d usually reserve for considering other people.

In order to reach these conclusions, the researchers carried out two experiments. In the first, the participants were presented with photos and videos depicting negative or upsetting scenarios.

Afterwards, they asked themselves about how they felt, first using the ‘I’ pronoun in their self-talk (to answer the question ‘What am I feeling right now?’) then referring to themselves by their names (as if to answer ‘What is [Name] feeling right now?’).

When participants used a name in their self-reflection, much less activity could be seen in the areas of the brain associated with emotion.

In the second, participants were asked to discuss an emotional event, recalling half of it using ‘I’ and the other half in a more detached way, using their name as if referring to someone else. As with the first experiment, a reduction in activity in the emotional regions of the brain was noted.

“By using your own name, and possibly also second-person pronouns, it creates this little separation from the self,” Jason Moser, one of the study’s authors, told The Cut. “It makes you think about your feelings and thoughts like you’re looking at somebody else’s experience.”

Well, it’s worth a try.

Via Grazia

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