Referring to yourself in the third person during periods of stress can aid emotional control, new research finds.
The method was a favourite of Seinfeld sitcom character “George Costanza”, although it didn’t seem to help him much.
Dr Jason Moser, the study’s first author, 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.
That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions.”
The study compared talking to yourself in the third person (“George is getting upset!) with using the more usual first-person language (“I’m getting upset”).
The researchers found that talking about themselves in the third person helped people better control their emotions.
Brain scans showed the areas linked to painful emotional experiences were less active when people used the third-person.
Professor Ethan Kross, study co-author, said:
“What’s really exciting here, is that the brain data from these two complementary experiments suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation.
If this ends up being true — we won’t know until more research is done — there are lots of important implications these findings have for our basic understanding of how self-control works, and for how to help people control their emotions in daily life.”
Oddly, George wasn’t exactly known for his emotional self-control.
Maybe he should have stuck with his father’s mantra: “Serenity now!”
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The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Moser et al., 2017).