The Benefits of Talking to Yourself


A stranger approached me at a grocery store. “Do you need help finding something?” he asked. At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant. Then the realization kicked in: I was talking out loud, to myself, in public. It was a habit I’d grown so comfortable with that I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

The fairly common habit of talking aloud to yourself is what psychologists call external self-talk. And although self-talk is sometimes looked at as just an eccentric quirk, research has found that it can influence behavior and cognition.

“Language provides us with this tool to gain distance from our own experiences when we’re reflecting on our lives. And that’s really why it’s useful,” said Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

When we talk to ourselves we’re trying to see things more objectively, Mr. Kross said, so it matters how you talk to yourself. The two types of self-talk you’re likely most familiar with are instructional self-talk, like talking yourself through a task, and motivational self-talk, like telling yourself, “I can do this.” It might be corny, but motivating yourself out loud can work.

One study published in Procedia — Social and Behavioral Sciences researched the effects of both motivational and instructional self-talk on subjects playing basketball. It found that players passed the basketball faster when they motivated themselves through the task out loud.

Even how you refer to yourself when talking to yourself can make a difference. Mr. Kross and his colleagues studied the impact of internal self-talk — talking to yourself in your head — to see how it can affect attitudes and feelings. They found that when their subjects talked about themselves in the second or third person — for example, “You can do this” or “Jane can do this” instead of “I can do this” — not only did they feel less anxiety while performing, but their peers also rated their performances better. Mr. Kross said this was because of self-distancing: focusing on the self from the distanced perspective of a third person, even though that person is you.

“In terms of why psychological distance helps, the example I like to give is to think about a time with a friend or loved one ruminating about a problem,” Mr. Kross said. “As an outsider, it’s relatively easy for you to advise them through that problem. One of the key reasons why we’re so able to advise others on a problem is because we’re not sucked into those problems. We can think more clearly because we have distance from the experience.”

So if you’re frazzled and need a motivational pep talk, you might consider giving it in the second or third person, which can help you look at the situation from a logical, objective perspective rather than an emotional, biased one.

Beyond motivational self-talk, talking to yourself out loud in an instructional way can speed up cognitive abilities in relation to problem-solving and task performance.

So, for example, when you’re searching for that item you just can’t find at the grocery store, talking to yourself out loud may help you find it faster. This is because of the feedback hypothesis.

“The idea is, if you hear a word, does that help you see something?” said Gary Lupyan, a researcher and psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

According to the feedback hypothesis, the name of an item and its label make you think of what that item looks like. “This helps you distinguish it from other items with different names,” Mr. Lupyan said.

Mr. Lupyan wanted to test the feedback hypothesis with self-talk. In a series of experiments, he and his team asked subjects to search for different objects in different situations. In one experiment, subjects were asked to search for a picture of a specific item, like a banana, among 20 pictures of random items.

“We had some of the subjects say the name of the object out loud to themselves,” he said. “The idea was, does saying the name actually help you activate its visual features?”

Mr. Lupyan and his colleagues found that when subjects said the word “banana” before searching for a picture of one, they found the picture faster and more accurately. Saying the word out loud, the study found, made the subjects more aware of its physical traits, which then made the banana stand out among other objects.

It’s worth noting, however, that this type of self-talk isn’t as effective if you don’t know what the item looks like. In other words, if you’re searching for a papaya and you have no idea what a papaya looks like, asking yourself, “Where are the papayas?” probably won’t do much for you.

“The finding was that saying a name out loud helps, but only with objects they have familiarity with,” Mr. Lupyan said. Without that familiarity, talking to yourself out loud can slow you down, he added.

Instructive self-talk can be useful beyond finding your lost car keys or picking out a friend in a crowd. The aforementioned basketball study also found that players passed and shot the basketball more accurately when they instructed themselves through the task out loud, suggesting that talking to yourself about what you’re doing can keep you focused. The study concluded that motivational self-talk worked best on tasks based on speed, strength and power, while instructional self-talk worked best with tasks that involved focus, strategy and technique. In the real world, this might translate to parallel parking, following a recipe or putting together an Ikea side table.

“My bet is that self-talk works best on problems where you’re trying to stay on task and there are possible distractions,” Mr. Lupyan said. “For tasks with a multistep sequence, talking to yourself out loud can help you keep out distractions and remind yourself where you are.”


Test: Preparing Young Americans for a Complex World

Preparing Young Americans for a Complex World

Last year, the Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic commissioned a survey to assess the global literacy of American college students. Over 1,200 people participated; less than 30 percent earned a passing grade. Below are six questions they included, each of which a majority of respondents answered incorrectly. See how you, or your students or children, do. (Answers below.)

1. In which of these countries is a majority of the population Muslim?

a) South Africa

b) Armenia

c) India

d) Indonesia

2. Which language is spoken by the most people in the world as their primary language?

a) Russian

b) Mandarin Chinese

c) English

d) Arabic

3. Which country is the largest trading partner of the United States, based on the total dollar value of goods and services?

a) Canada

b) China

c) Mexico

d) Saudi Arabia

4. Approximately what percentage of the United States federal budget is spent on foreign aid?

a) 1 percent

b) 5 percent

c) 12 percent

d) 30 percent

e) 40 percent

5. Which countries is the United States bound by treaty to protect if they are attacked? (select all that apply)

a) Canada

b) China

c) Japan

d) Mexico

e) North Korea

f) Russia

g) South Korea

h) Turkey

6. True or False: Over the past five years, the number of Mexicans leaving the United States and returning to Mexico has been greater than the number of Mexicans entering the United States.


*Answers, with percentage of respondents who gave the correct answer.

1. d (29 percent)

2. b (49 percent)

3. a (10 percent)

4. a (12 percent)

5. a (47 percent), c (28 percent), g (34 percent), h (14 percent)

6. True (34 percent)

New Wor(l)d: La bataille des toilettes

La Silicon Valley s’oppose de nouveau à l’administration Trump dans « la bataille des toilettes »

Apple, Facebook, Microsoft et d’autres ont multiplié les appels à la non-discrimination ces derniers jours.

LE MONDE | | Par Perrine Signoret

« Apple croit que chacun mérite une chance de s’épanouir dans un environnement exempt de stigmatisation et discrimination. Nous soutenons les efforts faits en faveur d’une meilleure acceptation, et non l’inverse. » Cette déclaration de la firme à la pomme, rapportée par Axios le 22 février, était l’une des premières à dénoncer la décision de l’administration américaine de revenir en arrière sur les droits des personnes transgenres.

Le matin même, les départements de la justice et de l’éducation annonçaient en effet qu’ils ne prendraient plus en compte une mesure antidiscrimination mise en place par l’ancien président des Etats-Unis. Celle-ci visait à permettre aux étudiants transsexuels de choisir dans les toilettes les cabinets de leur choix, en fonction de leur genre, et non de leur sexe biologique. Cette mesure de protection était également valable dans d’autres lieux non mixtes, comme les vestiaires.

En réaction à ce nouveau revirement dans la « bataille des toilettes », comme on la surnomme, une dizaine de grands groupes de la Silicon Valley ont protesté. Parmi eux, Facebook, Microsoft, Alphabet, la maison mère de Google, qui s’est dite « profondément concernée » par le sujet, Dell, IBM, Lyft, Pinterest,, Yahoo!, Uber ou encore Zenefits. Plusieurs ont rappelé qu’en leur sein des « politiques explicites de non-discrimination » étaient appliquées depuis des années déjà.

Une Silicon Valley sous pression

Ce n’est pas la première fois qu’une telle coalition de firmes s’oppose au président, Donald Trump, et son administration. A la fin de janvier déjà, des voix s’étaient élevées contre le décret anti-immigration visant les ressortissants de sept pays musulmans. Mark Zuckerberg, président-directeur général de Facebook, avait alors déclaré que les Etats-Unis étaient « une nation d’immigrants », et qu’il fallait « être fiers de cela ». Apple, Microsoft, Google et Netflix lui avaient ensuite emboîté le pas.

La relation entre Donald Trump et la Silicon Valley est, depuis quelques mois, pour le moins fluctuante. Après avoir largement pris position pour la démocrate Hillary Clinton, plusieurs grands patrons avaient tenté d’apaiser la situation. Une rencontre avait alors été organisée à New York avec le futur président, à la suite de laquelle Elon Musk et Travis Kalanick, fondateurs respectifs de Tesla et d’Uber, avaient accepté d’intégrer un « forum stratégique », destiné à conseiller le candidat sur sa politique économique.

Des employés avaient alors appelé leurs dirigeants à changer de cap. Des appels au boycottage sur les réseaux sociaux avaient également été lancés, contre Uber notamment.


You did it to yourself

img_0003In second/third/foreign/world language spiel you will read about ‘Self Assessment’ or ‘Self-Evaluation’.

The idea behind it is simple: the learner should be the one in control of its learning experience, establishing goals to achieve and checking them off when it’s done. Wash rinse repeat. It’s the student-centered method mixed with a sober reality (students learn more from each other than from their professors) with a dash of life-long learning principle.

These self-assessment surveys are useful for professors too. For example when creating or updating the curriculum, designing activities, and more prosaically when writing letters of recommendation.

Bref, il y en a un peu pour tout le monde. So no matter if you just started playing with Duolinguo or need to know where you’re at to prove your teacher wrong, here are ‘Performance Indicators for Language Learners’ commonly used in the U.S. (ACTFL standards) and Europe (CEFR standards).

ACTFL Can-Do Statements: can-do_statements_2015

CEFR Portfolio: cefr_portfolio_en