Psychological Experiment: Reducing Anxiety in Stressful Situations

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Anxiety is something that million of people face everyday, making their life more difficult.Especially the modern and complicated way of life is constantly making us feel lost. Thanks to the sheer increase in the quality of technology nowadays, we’ve been afforded a more complete view of how our minds work. For example, we know how brain activity changes in certain situations. However, there’s still a long way to go and this is why the researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) recently carried out an experiment asking the question ‘does talking to yourself reduce stress and negative emotion?’.

As strange as this sounds, MSU, along with the University of Michigan, suggested that addressing oneself in the third person when under stress can actually reduce the emotional response. For instance, ‘why is James upset?’ as opposed to ‘why am I upset?’  the results were interesting to say the least.


The Study

As part of the study, there were two different experiments that took place. When faced with neutral or disturbing images, the first had participants reacting in first and third person. During the process, their brain activity was being watched and assessed by experts with an electroencephalograph. In this first study, brain activity decreased within just one second of being shown a picture of a man with a gun to his head. How? They referred to themselves in the third-person!

What’s more, the researchers came to the conclusion that talking in third-person doesn’t tax the brain as much as first-person and it also comes in much lower than mindfulness and other forms of emotional regulation.

In the second experiment, the participants were asked to recall painful experiences in their own lives. Whilst under fMRI imaging, they would tell the stories in first and third-person whilst researchers measured brain activity and emotional response. Once again, the participants who spoke in third-person saw less activity within the brain (especially the region normally accessed during painful emotional situations).

The Explanation

With all of this information in mind, why does this actually happen and what does it mean? Although the professors can’t be 100% accurate with their explanations, they believe that talking in third-person allows a certain emotional distance to the situation. Rather than feeling right in the middle of the story or situation, the participants started to see themselves as they see other people and this is shown in the brain activity. Once removed from the situation, the participants were able to regulate their emotions no matter how painful the pictures or retelling of the story may have been.

In terms of what it means moving forwards, this psychological experiment has enabled us to get to know our minds that little bit better but it also gives us more control over our emotions. For many years, emotional regulation has been a huge question mark in our lives. Although, more research is required in order to strengthen the proof and for it to be accepted globally, the implications are far and wide.


Image by theatlantic.com

With this form of self-control, we open up several doors for everyday life. Whether it’s people trying to exercise more often, those attempting to lose weight on a diet, work-from-home individuals trying to overcome procrastination, this level of self-control could be a game-changer. In stressful situations, we could talk to ourselves in third-person and be more convincing that we need to visit the gym or that we don’t need a takeaway for dinner when attempting to lose weight.

Furthermore, the implications also spread into the business world and those trying to reach a certain role. Rather than feeling disappointed at missing out on a job, we could talk to ourselves in third-person and create a plan to go again rather than giving up!

We are looking forward to further tests!


 featured image: truenorthleadership

Kostas Deroukakis
Love to search, to try, to give, to learn. Knowledge, is the road for this achievement
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