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Taming Emotions with Third Person Monologue

Talking to oneself needs not to be seen as a sign of lunacy or bizarre behavior anymore. A third-person monologue could become a useful strategy for emotional management according to a team of researchers in Michigan, USA.

Apparently, people do a better job of controlling their emotions when they talk to themselves in the third person than talking in the first person. This was the first study to document this phenomenon. The research had financial support from the John Temple Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Researchers carried out two experiments in two distinct universities in Michigan.arguing with yourself

Namely, the studies were conducted at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. At the MSU, researchers had participants watch a series of pictures depicting neutral to disturbing imagery. Participants reacted to the pictures by talking to themselves in both the first and third person. Monitoring the participants' brains in real time with the aid of an electroencephalograph, researchers observed that when they referred to themselves in the third person, the emotional centers of the brain showed a much more rapid activity decrease without an increase in neurological burden. In other words, talking in the third person was no more effortful and resulted in stronger emotional self-control.

The results from the experiment at the University of Michigan point to the same direction. While thinking about their painful experiences, participants were able to control their emotions better when having monologues in the third person. Their brains were also monitored in real time, in this case with fMRI. According to scientists, the results suggest that “third person self-talk” can be used to provide effective emotional self-control in stressful situations.

Of course, these findings need further confirmation from subsequent studies, but they already seem to have implications for the current understanding of individual temperament and behavior. It is often observed that more impulsive or emotionally reactive individuals tend to be more vocal about their feelings or frustrations in stressful situations. This heightened propensity to vocalize their emotions may be, in part, a mechanism of emotional self-control. If so, engaging in third person vociferation, bizarre as it seems, might be beneficial to those who struggle with self-control or behavioral problems.

Self-control is a clinically relevant aspect in a wide variety of situations within the field of psychology. Third person monologues could, for example, have instrumental value in some types of psychotherapy targeted at emotional or behavioral disorders.