Distanced self-talk changes how we see ourselves

Distanced self-talk has positive effects on our self-control and wisdom. It also changes how we think about ourselves. This is shown by new research from Izzy Gainsburg and Ethan Kross. 

Distanced self-talk 

Frank was studying a difficult text for a course. He found it very difficult and when he felt the urge to give up, he said to himself, “Come on Frank, hang on! You will succeed if you persevere.” It seems strange to speak to yourself in the third person like this, as if you were talking to someone else. But more and more research shows that this kind of self-talk has advantages. It is called distanced self-talk, and it aids in emotion regulation and wise reasoning (see, e.g. Kross & Ayduk, 2017). 

Our malleable self-image 

How we talk to ourselves is affected by how we see ourselves. But how we see ourselves is rather malleable. It depends not only on our stable view of ourselves, but also on what the situation evokes in us. The language we use can also influence our self-image. 

Abstraction and social identity 

Gainsburg & Kross (2020) investigated how distanced self-talk changes how we think about ourselves. They expect that the greater psychological distance will make us think more abstractly about ourselves. They also wondered what the effect of distanced self-talk would be on how emphatically one would experience one's own social identity. 

More abstract, less social identity 

They conducted two experiments. The results showed that distanced self-talk indeed influences self-image. In Study 1, randomly assigned participants who used their own names to describe themselves (instead of "I") used more abstract terms to describe themselves and spoke less about their social identity. 

Study 2 directly replicated these effects in a powerful pre-registration experiment. It was also found that distanced self-talk led to people describing themselves in more abstract terms than other people. It also led to them talking less about their own social identity than about that of other people. 


Using our own name when we speak to ourselves can not only help regulate our emotions and reasoning wise, but also affects how we see ourselves. It leads us to perceive ourselves a little more abstractly and a little less in terms of our own social identity. We look a little more at ourselves the way we look at other people. 

This might help to gain more insight into the meaningful characteristics of ourselves that distinguish us from others. And maybe it also helps us become a little less prone to certain biases, such as positive illusions about ourselves.