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Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 3;7(1):4519. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-04047-3.

Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA. jmoser@msu.edu.
2
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
3
Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA.
4
School of Medicine, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.
5
Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.
6
Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
7
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. ekross@umich.edu.

Abstract

Does silently talking to yourself in the third-person constitute a relatively effortless form of self control? We hypothesized that it does under the premise that third-person self-talk leads people to think about the self similar to how they think about others, which provides them with the psychological distance needed to facilitate self control. We tested this prediction by asking participants to reflect on feelings elicited by viewing aversive images (Study 1) and recalling negative autobiographical memories (Study 2) using either "I" or their name while measuring neural activity via ERPs (Study 1) and fMRI (Study 2). Study 1 demonstrated that third-person self-talk reduced an ERP marker of self-referential emotional reactivity (i.e., late positive potential) within the first second of viewing aversive images without enhancing an ERP marker of cognitive control (i.e., stimulus preceding negativity). Conceptually replicating these results, Study 2 demonstrated that third-person self-talk was linked with reduced levels of activation in an a priori defined fMRI marker of self-referential processing (i.e., medial prefrontal cortex) when participants reflected on negative memories without eliciting increased levels of activity in a priori defined fMRI markers of cognitive control. Together, these results suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control.

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