Monday, June 01, 2015

When LeBron Talks About Himself in the Third Person, Is it Narcissism or Wisdom?

Pamela Weintraub has penned an article for Psychology Today about the fascinating work of University of Michigan Professor Ethan Kross.   The Michigan scholar has studied how our inner voice functions.  Here's an excerpt from Weintraub's description of this research:

In a series of groundbreaking experiments, Kross has found that how people conduct their inner monologues has an enormous effect on their success in life. Talk to yourself with the pronoun I, for instance, and you’re likely to fluster and perform poorly in stressful circumstances. Address yourself by your name and your chances of acing a host of tasks, from speech making to self-advocacy, suddenly soar. Indeed, along with addressing a body of research by others, Kross is forcing a whole new take on what has long been ignored or relegated to pop psychology—the use of self-talk to boost confidence. His work elevates self-talk to something far more significant: a powerful instrument of consciousness itself. When deployed in very specific ways at specific times, it frees the brain to perform its absolute best.  By toggling the way we address the self—first person or third—we flip a switch in the cerebral cortex, the center of thought, and another in the amygdala, the seat of fear, moving closer to or further from our sense of self and all its emotional intensity. Gaining psychological distance enables self-control, allowing us to think clearly, perform competently. The language switch also minimizes rumination, a handmaiden of anxiety and depression, after we complete a task. Released from negative thoughts, we gain perspective, focus deeply, plan for the future.

Does using the third person actually help us? Kross argues that it enables us to achieve a very helpful psychological distance. LeBron may be narcissistic, but perhaps there is method to the madness. Kross argues, "When dealing with strong emotions, taking a step back and becoming a detached observer can help. It’s very easy for people to advise their friends, yet when it comes to themselves, they have trouble. But people engaging in this process, using their own first name, are distancing themselves from the self, right in the moment, and that helps them perform.” In other words, perhaps we don't give ourselves good advice unless we can achieve some level of detachment. Talking to ourselves in the third person may very well provide such helpful assistance.

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