Are people who talk to themselves crazy?
lori_greig / Flickr

“The most influential and frequent voice you hear is your inner-voice. It can work in your favor or against you, depending on what you listen to and act upon.” –Maddy Malhotra

In accordance with popular urban legend, talking to yourself is supposedly the first tell-tale sign of impending insanity. If this were true, most of us would have been declared clinically insane by the time we turned five, as this is the age by which the majority of people begin engaging in out loud, self-directed speech.

The science of talking to yourself is one that is universally acknowledged but surprisingly under-researched. While we know that all people do in fact talk to themselves (you can stop lying now), modern science remains uncertain as to precisely how, why, and when this strange phenomenon first occurred.


Reason It Out By Talking To Yourself

talking to yourself may be a sign of sanity
“Mirror”, by Lauren Peralta

Within the last several decades, scientists and psychologists alike have come to understand talking to yourself, or ‘private speech,’ as a biological mechanism that better enables humans to siphon off stress, solve problems, reason through difficult decisions, and concentrate with greater accuracy.

In the most recent issue of Psychology Today (June 2015), freelance writer Pamela Weintraub presents the results of a groundbreaking private speech study that was conducted by psychologist Dr. Ethan Kross. Dr. Kross, who received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and Ph.D. from Columbia University in the City of New York, wanted to unearth the differences between talking to yourself in third and first personswhich, simply put, means using your name in lieu of ‘I.’

His curiosity was originally piqued when he realized that, upon running a red traffic light, he scolded himself in third person, saying, Ethan, you idiot,” instead of the first person, “I am an idiot.”

Not long after the traffic light incident, Dr. Kross heard seventeen-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaking on the Today Show about her mental dialogue regarding a potential Taliban attack: “If the Taliban comes, what would you do, Malala?” she remembers asking herself. Her answer? “Then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’”


Talk In Third Person For Even Better Result

Speaking in third person
Reflection in the Picture at Museum der Moderne, Salzburg. Source: Christian Weidinger

“We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious!” – Gollum, The Lord of the Rings

The difference between saying ‘I’ and using your name, according to Dr. Kross’ study, has the potential to provide a shocking number of previously unknown benefits that can contribute to a lifetime of success: people who speak to themselves in third person are more likely to have less anxiety, give better speeches and presentations, complete tasks with higher performance results, communicate more effectively, and maintain a deeper sense of self-advocacy than those who use the first person ‘I.’

Far from making you crazy, talking to yourself in the third person actually makes you smarter, more imaginative, and more confident. This is because using your name removes you from all of the emotional intensity that you subconsciously associate with yourself in the first person ‘I.’

Speaking in the third person lights up the brain’s cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of neural tissue linked to memory, perception, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness.

The first person ‘I,’ on the other hand, lights up the brain’s two amygdalae, which are located in the temporal lobes and associated with emotional reactions, anxiety, aggression, and fear. In short, none of the nouns you want to be cognizant of when talking yourself through a stressful situation.

“A woman and the sea.” michelangelo_mi / Flickr

Have you ever wondered why you’re great at giving your friends advice but woefully incompetent when it comes to your own? This is because the psychological distance between you and your friends’ situations makes it easier for you to think clearly and lucidly. Self-advice delivered the through the first person ‘I,’ however, puts you in dangerously close proximity to your inherently egocentric self of sense (which isn’t your fault, we swear) and thus hinders your ability to maximize your competency potential.

The next time you find yourself anxious, nervous, stressed, scared, or faced with a complicated task that requires an excessive amount of concentration, address yourself by name instead of using ‘I.’ According to the conclusions presented by Dr. Kross, doing so will most likely generate an immediate self-confidence boost as well as promote general cognitive expansion.