Using your own name in your internal dialogue appears to help with self-control, according to new research published in Clinical Psychological Science. The study found evidence that this type of distanced self-talk can promote healthy food decisions.
“Despite having goals to eat healthy, many people have difficulty making healthy choices when tempting foods are directly in front of them,” said Celina Furman of the University of Minnesota, the corresponding author of the new study.
“Recent research by Kross and colleagues demonstrated that reflecting on one’s decisions in the third person by using one’s name can be a relatively effortless strategy that improves self-control. Accordingly, we were interested in examining distanced self-talk as a potential strategy to improve eating choices.”
In the study, 244 young adults disclosed if they were currently dieting or trying to lose weight. The participants were then randomly assigned to watch a two-minute video of health-related commercials that emphasized eating healthy and exercising or home improvement commercials.
After watching the video, the participants chose between healthy and unhealthy food items on a computer screen. For each pair of foods, participants were instructed to use either first-person self-talk (“What do I want?”) or distanced self-talk (“[Name], what do you want?”) in a counterbalanced order.
The researchers found that non-dieters made fewer unhealthy choices when using distanced self-talk compared to first-person self-talk. Those who viewed the health video also made significantly fewer unhealthy choices when using distanced self-talk regardless of dieting status.
“Our findings indicate that reflecting on one’s decisions using one’s own name might enhance one’s ability to follow through with their goals, which can often be undermined by strong situational lures (e.g., tempting foods). This study suggests that this self-distancing technique may improve goal-directed behavior in the context of eating,” Furman told PsyPost.
She is now conducting additional research on the self-control strategy.
“Follow-up research is exploring mechanisms underlying the beneficial effect of distanced self-talk that we identified in this experiment. Specifically, I am examining not only how distanced self-talk influences eating behavior, but also how it influences the way people mentally represent appetitive stimuli. I am also examining the perceived ease of implementing this strategy when making food-related decisions,” Furman explained.
“This minimal approach has implications for eating healthier in our current food environment. As we are regularly confronted with tempting foods, self-control strategies that are easy to implement and can be repeatedly used when encountering those foods are more likely to be effective for improving dietary choices.”
The study, “Distanced Self-Talk Enhances Goal Pursuit to Eat Healthier“, was authored by Celina R. Furman, Ethan Kross, and Ashley N. Gearhardt.