Talking to yourself may help you control emotions without taking any additional mental effort, researchers say, adding the talk has to be in third person. The findings suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation than using first person self-talk — the way people normally talk to themselves.
Third-person self-talk may also act as an on-the-spot strategy for regulating one’s emotions, as many other forms of emotion regulation require considerable thought and effort, the researchers said.
“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 the 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,” Moser added. For the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, the team involved two experiments. In the first experiment, participants viewed neutral and disturbing images while their brain activity was monitored by an electroencephalograph.
When participants’ reacted to the disturbing photos (such as a man holding a gun to their heads), in third person, their emotional brain activity decreased very quickly (within one second). In the second experiment, participants reflected on painful experiences from their past while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or FMRI.
The results showed 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.