Self-Distancing Pronouns Use Can Increase Self-Management

Ethan Kross

Ethan Kross

Despite years of popular guidance to use self-statements for difficult conversations with partners, spouses, and bosses, research led by University of Michigan’s Ethan Kross, Jiyoung Park, Aleah Burson, Adrienne Dougherty, Holly Shablack, and Ryan Bremner argues for using alternatives to “self-statements” to manage stress and increase self-control.

Emma Bruehlman-Senecal

Emma Bruehlman-Senecal

With their collaborators at University of California, Berkeley, Emma Bruehlman-Senecal and Ozlem Ayduk as well as Michigan State’s Jason Moser, Kross’s team studied more than 580 people’s ability to self-regulate reactions to social stress related to differing ways of referring to the self during introspection.

LeBron James

LeBron James

One example of variations in self-reference is LeBron James’ statement, One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. I wanted to do what’s best for LeBron James and to do what makes LeBron James happy.”

The team demonstrated that using non-first-person pronouns (such as “he” or “she”)   and one’s own name (rather than “I”) during introspection enhanced self-distancing, in which people focus specifically on the self from a distanced perspective.

Stephen Hayes

Stephen Hayes

The concept of distancing, although sometimes referred to as “decentering” or “self as context,” allows people to observe and accept their feelings, according to University of Nevada’s Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, Akihiko Masuda and Jason Lillis collaborating with Frank Bond of University of London.

Ozlem Ayduk

Ozlem Ayduk

Self-distancing verbalizations enabled less distress and less maladaptive  “post-event processing – or perseveratively reviewing performance –  when delivering a speech without sufficient time to prepare, and when seeking to make a good first impression on others.
This type of post-hoc reflection can lead to increased social anxiety, noted Temple University’s Faith Brozovich and Richard Heimberg.

Faith Brozovich

Faith Brozovich

These participants also engaged in less post-event processing and experienced less global negative affect and shame after delivering a speech without sufficient preparation time.

In addition to managing personal experiences of anxiety, people who talked about themselves with non-first person pronouns also performed better, according to ratings by observers in speaking and impression-formation social tasks.

Adrienne Dougherty

Adrienne Dougherty

Likewise, volunteers who used distanced self-references appraised future stressors as less threatening, and more effectively reconstrued experiences for greater coping, insight, and closure, in another study of self-distancing by found Kross and Ayduk.

Ryan Bremner

Ryan Bremner

In that study, volunteers who scored high on measures of social anxiety reported and reflected on their personally-stressful situations, including:

  • Work, such as job interview; anxiety-provoking colleague interaction for 12%,
  • Money, including borrowing money; being homeless reported by 3% involving worries about one’s own or family member’s health for 4% of respondents,
  • Performance, such as presentations and work-product evaluations for 19%,
  • Interpersonal-relationships, such as conflict with a former partner or friend, and being excluded from a group for 40%,
  • Other concerns, such as an upcoming move to a new location, for 22%.
David Gard

David Gard

People with elevated scores on measures of depression or bipolar disorder experienced less distress when applying a self-distanced visual perspective as they contemplated emotional experiences, compared with less vulnerable individuals, noted Kross and Ayduk, collaborating with San Francisco State University’s David Gard, Patricia Deldin of University of Michigan, and Jessica Clifton of University of Vermont.

Ethan Zell

Ethan Zell

Using second-person pronouns (“you”) seem to be a self-distancing strategy when people reflect on situations that involve self-control, noted University of North Carolina’s Ethan Zell, Amy Beth Warriner of McMaster University and University of Illinois’s Dolores Albarracín.

These findings demonstrate that small changes in self-referencing words during introspection significantly increase self-regulation of thoughts, feelings, and behavior during social stress experiences.

Dolores Albarracín

Dolores Albarracín

Self-distancing references may help people manage with depression and anger linked to ruminating over the past and anticipatory social anxiety when thinking about future situations.

-*What impact do you experience when you use “self-distancing language”?

-*How do you react when you hear others using “self-distancing language,” like referring to “you” when speaking about their own experience?

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  • Reduce Rumination, Stress by Taking a Walk in Nature, Viewing Animals

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