The Science of Self-Talk

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Young Girl Playing By HerselfBack several months ago, we did a blog post on the power of self-talk and shared some tips for how to do it “well.”  Why does self-talk work?  Is it just that having your own internal cheerleader boosts your confidence and improves your mood?  Well, preliminary research into the brain science suggests that self-talk actually affects how you view yourself and therefore can impact your feelings AND behaviors.

In October, NPR’s Morning Edition aired a story on the science of self-talk.  They described a 2013 study where women who had been diagnosed with anorexia were asked to walk through a doorway; to do so, the women turned sideways and squeezed through even when there was physically plenty of space.  These women’s brains portrayed an unrealistic representation of their actual bodies.

So, in therapy, the approach for treating these women might be to get at their internal dialogue- to remove ‘negative or pejorative terms’ from their self-talk.  According to the NPR report, “The underlying notion is that it’s not enough for a patient to lose physical weight — or gain it, as some women need to — if she doesn’t also change the way her body looks in her mind’s eye.”

Dr. Branch Coslett, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, plans to study how people with poor body image get such an unrealistic impression of their physical bodies.  Preliminarily, Dr. Coslett thinks that “self-talk probably does shape the physiology of perception, given that other sensory perceptions — the intensity of pain, for example, or whether a certain taste is pleasing or foul, or even what we see — can be strongly influenced by opinions, assumptions, cultural biases and blind spots.”  So, self-talk is kind of like brain “remodeling.”

The most effective self-talk?  The kind where you think and talk about yourself in third person.  Use your own name to offer advice and to give a pep talk.  It’s all because of that phenomenon where we tend to be kinder to other people than we are to ourselves.  Click here for more tips on effective self-talk.

Click to hear or read the NPR story “Why Saying is Believing- The Science of Self-Talk.”

-Katie Huffman

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About Katie Huffman

Katie is a Wellness Advocate with the Clergy Health Initiative. She has an undergraduate degree in History and French and a Masters degree in Gerontology; prior to her current position, Katie worked as a social worker in a retirement community in Chapel Hill. Outside of work, she enjoys gardening, spending time outdoors, baking, and hanging out with her husband, Noah, their daughter, Ada, and two kitties, Grady and Gracie.

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