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Self-Talk: Are there Potential Benefits of Talking to Yourself?

     

Most of us talk to ourselves occasionally, some more than others. “We all have an internal monologue that we engage in from time to time; an inner voice that guides our moment-to-moment reflections,” notes researcher Jason S. Moser, Ph.D., with Michigan State University. But is talking to yourself a good thing? Can it actually be beneficial? It may depend on how you do it.

Communicating with ourselves is a natural part of development. Most children engage in self talk beginning at age two or three and as they develop the process becomes more internalized. However, overt self-talk never goes away entirely and it is used throughout life.(1)

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Self-talk has been shown to be associated with a variety of psychological functions, including reasoning, problem solving, planning, attention, and motivation. Self-talk strategies are used to enhance sports performance, they can help improve focus and attention and help counter the effects of distraction.

Looking at potential mental health benefits, recent research points to a difference in whether you talk to yourself using first person (‘I’) or third person (referring to yourself by name or he/she). Researchers found that the language people use to refer to themselves during self-talk influences self-control. When a person uses their name rather than the pronoun ‘I’ to refer to themselves it increases the ability to control thoughts, feelings and behavior under stress.

The researchers, led by Moser, suggest that talking to yourself in the third person is similar to the way you would talk to another person and allows you to reason more calmly as you would about someone else. Two neuroimaging techniques (functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIs) and event-related brain potential (ERPs)) were used to look at emotional regulation and the level of effort to control emotions. The study looked at reactions to both an external prompt, pictured scenes, and an internal prompt, drawing on memories of events.

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The researchers conclude that talking silently to yourself in the third-person constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control. “Because of its simplicity and effectiveness, third-person self-talk could prove useful for promoting emotion regulation in daily life.”

A review of several other studies looking at the language people use to refer to themselves during introspection and its influence on how they think, feel and behave under social stress found that using third person self-talk during introspection

  • increases self-distancing
  • improves performance in making good first impression and in public speaking, according to objective raters
  • leads people to see future stressors in more challenging and less threatening terms, compared to using first person

The small shift in language people use to refer to themselves during introspection affects their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, the researchers concluded.

Another study found third person self-talk improved rational thinking and reduced worry and perception of risk. Researchers looked at whether third person self-talk could help people to reason more rationally about Ebola. (The study was conducted in 2014 when Ebola concerns were high.)

Participants who used third person self-talk, generated more fact-based reasons not to worry, perceived less risk and worried less than those using first person self-talk. The study results demonstrate “how a simple linguistic technique can enhance rational thinking and quell worry about a pressing public health threat,” according to the authors.

References

  • (1) Geurts, B. Making Sense of Self Talk. Rev. Phil. Psych. 2018 (9) :271-285
  • Moser, JS, et al. Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI. Scientific Reports.7:4519
  • Kross, E. et al. Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: how you do it matters. Journal of Personal Social Psychology. 2014, Feb; 106(2):304-24
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A, Galanis, E. Self-talk effectiveness and attention. Curr Opin Psychol. 2017 Aug. 16:138-142

     

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