Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: how you do it matters

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2014 Feb;106(2):304-24. doi: 10.1037/a0035173.


Does the language people use to refer to the self during introspection influence how they think, feel, and behave under social stress? If so, do these effects extend to socially anxious people who are particularly vulnerable to such stress? Seven studies explored these questions (total N = 585). Studies 1a and 1b were proof-of-principle studies. They demonstrated that using non-first-person pronouns and one's own name (rather than first-person pronouns) during introspection enhances self-distancing. Studies 2 and 3 examined the implications of these different types of self-talk for regulating stress surrounding making good first impressions (Study 2) and public speaking (Study 3). Compared with the first-person group, the non-first-person group performed better according to objective raters in both studies. They also displayed less distress (Studies 2 and 3) and engaged in less maladaptive postevent processing (Study 3). Studies 4 and 5 examined how these different forms of self-talk influence the way people appraise social-anxiety-provoking events. They demonstrated that non-first-person language use (compared with first-person language use) leads people to appraise future stressors in more challenging and less threatening terms. Finally, a meta-analysis (Study 6) indicated that none of these findings were moderated by trait social anxiety, highlighting their translational potential. Together, these findings demonstrate that small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self during introspection consequentially influence their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, even for vulnerable individuals.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Communication*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Young Adult