Washington: Talking to yourself in the third person during stressful events may help control emotions without any added mental effort, a study has found.
“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, associate professor at Michigan State University in the US.
“That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions,” he said.
Researchers conducted two experiments. In one experiment participants viewed neutral and disturbing images and reacted to them in the first and third person while their brain
activity was monitored by an electroencephalograph.
The team found that when reacting to the disturbing photos such as a man holding a gun to their heads, the emotional brain activity decreased within a second when they referred to themselves in the third person.
Researchers also measured participants’ effort-related brain activity and found that using the third person was no more effortful than using first person self-talk.
“This bodes well for using third-person self-talk as an on-the-spot strategy for regulating one’s emotions, as many other forms of emotion regulation, such as mindfulness and
thinking on the bright side, require considerable thought and effort,” Moser said.
In the other experiment, 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.
Similar to the first experiment researchers found that 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, researchers said.
“What is 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 Ethan Kross, professor at University of Michigan in the US.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.