Conventional thought says talking to yourself is a sign of madness, but there are many instances in which talking to yourself can be helpful. Paloma Mari-Beffa, a senior lecturer in neuropsychology and cognitive psychology, says self-talk is healthy.
“We actually talk to ourselves silently all the time. I don’t just mean the odd ‘where are my keys?’ comment – we actually often engage in deep, transcendental conversations at 3am with nobody else but our own thoughts to answer back. This inner talk is very healthy indeed, having a special role in keeping our minds fit. It helps us organise our thoughts, plan actions, consolidate memory and modulate emotions. In other words, it helps us
While self-talk can be constructive, healthy and important for self-control, recent findings by psychology researchers at Michigan State University indicate that the language we use to refer to our self can influence our level of self-control.
Specifically, using our own name instead of the first-person pronoun, ‘I’ increases our ability to control our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour under stress.
Referring to ourselves in third person may enable an effortless form of self control and improve emotion regulation by facilitating psychological distance and reducing egocentric bias.
As study co-author Jason Moser explains, “By using your own name, and possibly also second-person pronouns, it creates this little separation from the self. It makes you think about your feelings and thoughts like you’re looking at somebody else’s experience.”
Moser and his colleagues ran two different experiments that measured what happens in the brain when people talk to themselves in the first person compared to third person or pronouns.
The first study focused on in-the moment stressful stimuli. Participants were instructed to view stock photos and videos from violent, upsetting news stories or films and asked to silently reflect on what they saw, first using ‘I’ to work through their feelings, and then using their own name.
The researchers found that when people used their own name in self-talk, they were experiencing less of an intense emotional reaction and less negative emotion in the moment.
In the second study focused on emotionally charged memories, the researchers asked participants to talk about an emotional event in their life, half the time recalling it in first person, and the other half of the time positioning the event as part of a third-person narrative featuring their own name.
“We found that we saw reductions in the self-referential, emotional brain regions – the ones that light up when you experience an emotion that is relevant to you,” concluded Moser.