We all talk to ourselves. And when we do, it’s usually in the first person. “What do I want to eat tonight?” or “I really aced that math exam.”
People might think it a little odd if that inner dialogue was in the third person. “Robert is going to eat a juicy cheeseburger tonight.”
Sounds weird, right? But according to researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, talking to yourself silently in the third person during stressful times might actually have a mental health benefit.
Their study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests talking to yourself in the third person might be a good way of regulating your emotions. The idea is that this third-person talk leads us to think of ourselves like we think of others. And researchers believe that provides the psychological distance needed from upsetting situations to allow us to exert emotional self-control.
Their experiments backed up that premise.
In one, participants viewed neutral or disturbing images, talking to themselves in both first and third person while their brain activity was monitored. Their emotional brain activity dropped significantly when they talked about their reaction in the third person.
In a second, participants talked about a painful personal memory in the first and third person. Once again, they exhibited less activity while talking in the third person.
The researchers said the studies have implications for understanding how self-control works and how to help people control their emotions in daily life.
But when talking to others, it’s still a good idea to refrain from lapsing into the third person.