Stepping Outside of Ourselves to Help Ourselves


By User:Viogfernos in English Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Doubles2x.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve been tracking an interesting theme developing across multiple articles recently that may be relevant to educators: by viewing ourselves from a third-person perspective, we can better empower ourselves to tackle psychological or emotional obstacles.

This approach seems worth bearing in mind as we work with our students—and ourselves—to try to break negative habits and mental models and instill positive ones. For example, when working with students to set goals, we can help them word their goals in the third-person. Or when working with children that struggle with self-control and crisis management, we can teach them to use positive self-talk that refers to themselves in the second or third-person (e.g. “You can do this! You just need to take some deep breaths.”)

Here’s the articles that develop this theme [some items bolded for effect]:

Need to Solve a Personal Problem? Try a Third-Person Perspective” on Association for Psychological Science’s Observations blog

Participants considering their own romantic problem from a third person-perspective scored higher in wise reasoning than those considering their own problem from a first-person perspective. Stepping back from their own problems, psychologically speaking, led them to reason more wisely — to think more like they would if they were giving their friends advice.

Pronouns Matter when Psyching Yourself” by Ozlem Ayduk & Ethan Kross on Harvard Business Review

We found that cueing people to reflect on intense emotional experiences using their names and non-first-person pronouns such as “you” or “he” or “she” consistently helped them control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

For example, in one study we found that participants who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using “I” or “me.”

The effects extended beyond the task, too: People who had used non-first-person pronouns or their names felt more positively about their performance on the speech once it was over. They also experienced less shame about it and ruminated about it less. Those are big pluses — ruminating endlessly over past experiences can hurt not only your psychological well-being but also your physical health.

It didn’t matter whether the research subjects were anxious or calm at baseline; both types of people benefited from the subtle shift in language.

Nor were there different effects for use of the second- or third-person pronouns or their own names. All that mattered was whether the participants did or didn’t use first-person pronouns.

Want to learn a new skill more effectively? Stop thinking about yourself!” by Christian Jarrett on BPS Research Digest

A common assumption is that an internal focus is harmful to performance because it directs unhelpful conscious attention to bodily control. But what if the costs of self-focus are more general and profound than that? Perhaps merely thinking about ourselves in any way is harmful to performance and learning because to do so activates the “self-schema”.

The self-schema is “more than a philosophical construct” argue Brad McKay and his colleagues in a new paper, it is in fact a “functional neural network located anatomically in cortical midline structures.” Their theory is that anything that activates this network – be that over-focus on bodily movements, memories of past performance, or the scrutiny of an audience – will be detrimental to skilled performance and learning.

. . . McKay and his team said their “experiments are the first to show that self-reflection alone is sufficient to interfere with motor skill activation and performance.”

Me, Meet Virtual Me” by Sarah C.P. Williams on Medium

What happens next, as you’re immersed in a virtual reality, could change your behavior for hours, days or even months to come. Researchers like Blanke have started to pull back the curtain on how the brain responds to simulated realities, and they’re finding that taking off the headset, or flicking off a screen, doesn’t end the effects of the technology.

Watching an avatar of yourself exercise makes you more confident in your ability to work out — and more likely to exercise in the days to come. Likewise, watching your own avatar comfort a child lifts your mood, seeing your avatar quickly gain weight after overeating can temper your appetite, and meeting an old-you avatar can inspire you to save more money for the future.

. . . “The patients’ experiences were really like biological avatars,” Blanke says. The patients would feel that their body was located a few feet away from their vantage point; they’d see themselves in the third person.

. . . Called the Proteus Effect by researchers, it’s the idea that someone’s behavior can be affected by the appearance of their avatar (rather than the environment) in a virtual setting. This is where Yoon’s ideas are rooted: identify with a villainous avatar and you’ll act slightly more nefariously, identify with a healthy avatar and you’ll want to be healthier. It has less do with the virtual environment and more to do with that other-you.

Found other research or articles that further develops this theme? Please share with our community in the comments!

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