When a person talks to him or herself in the third person, it can mostly be viewed as an odd trait, maybe even symptomatic of a psychological disorder. But researchers say that talking to oneself in the third person during stressful moments may actually do a lot to control emotions, without the need for mental exertion.
Jason Moser, associate professor at Michigan State University and lead author on the study, says, “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.” He adds,
That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions.
According to Tribune India, the researchers conducted two experiments that yielded these conclusions. In the first one, participants were shown both neutral and disturbing images, and were asked to react to them in the first and third person. Their brain activities were monitored via electroencephalograph.
When the participants reacted to the disturbing photos, emotional brain activity decreased within a second when they talked in the third person. Furthermore, effort-related brain activity showed that using the third person required no more effort than talking in the first person.
In the second experiment, participants were asked to reflect on past painful memories using first and third person speech, while brain activities were measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging.
The participants also displayed less brain activity when using the third person to talk to themselves, suggesting better emotional regulation. Moser says, “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.”
Ethan Kross, professor at University of Michigan, says, “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.”
The study was published in Scientific Reports.