Speaking in third person Psychology

July 16, 2016

The Psychological Case for

LeBron James has earned immense fame for how he carries himself on the court. He's also earned some fame, but much less praise, for how he talks about himself in interviews. The 6-foot-8-inch Cleveland Cavalier speaks in the third person, a tendency that has contributed to his being characterized as narcissistic, self-obsessed and detached from reality.

It's not surprising that James' habit of mentioning LeBron James turns people off. Typically, the use of the third person by individuals themselves, called illeism, is associated with egocentrics and oddball characters like rapper Flavor Flav, American Psycho's Patrick Bateman and Jimmy from Seinfeld. When most people talk about themselves, they just say "I."

Ethan Kross, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, doesn't believe speaking in third person deserves its bad rap. Kross studies self-talk, the introspective conversations we have with ourselves about ourselves. Through his research, Kross has found that people who don't refer to themselves in the first person during self-talk have an easier time dealing with stressful situations. Basically, treating ourselves as though we're other people can change how we think, feel and behave.

Kross has studied psychological distance for over a decade, but says focusing on non-first-person self-talk dawned on him a few years ago when he caught himself doing it. After running a red light, Kross blurted out, "Ethan, you idiot! Why did you do that?" Then he started to notice the behavior in other people, which got him thinking about the meaning and value of the language we use when we communicate with ourselves.

Kross explored this phenomenon in the lab.

In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Kross and a research team explored how people use different styles of self-talk during stressful tasks. In two of the experiments, researchers challenged participants to deliver a speech with little preparation or help. Extemporaneous public speaking, Kross told Mic, is among the most powerful ways to induce stress in a controlled environment without crossing ethical lines.

Source: mic.com

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