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Self-Talk as a Regulatory Mechanism: How You Do It Matters

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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
2014, Vol. 106, No. 2, 304 –324
© 2014 American Psychological Association
0022-3514/14/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0035173
Self-Talk as a Regulatory Mechanism: How You Do It Matters
Ethan Kross
Emma Bruehlman-Senecal
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
University of California, Berkeley
Jiyoung Park, Aleah Burson, Adrienne Dougherty,
Holly Shablack, and Ryan Bremner
Michigan State University
Jason Moser
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Ozlem Ayduk
University of California, Berkeley
Does the language people use to refer to the self during introspection influence how they think, feel, and
behave under social stress? If so, do these effects extend to socially anxious people who are particularly
vulnerable to such stress? Seven studies explored these questions (total N ⫽ 585). Studies 1a and 1b were
proof-of-principle studies. They demonstrated that using non-first-person pronouns and one’s own name
(rather than first-person pronouns) during introspection enhances self-distancing. Studies 2 and 3
examined the implications of these different types of self-talk for regulating stress surrounding making
good first impressions (Study 2) and public speaking (Study 3). Compared with the first-person group,
the non-first-person group performed better according to objective raters in both studies. They also
displayed less distress (Studies 2 and 3) and engaged in less maladaptive postevent processing (Study 3).
Studies 4 and 5 examined how these different forms of self-talk influence the way people appraise
social-anxiety-provoking events. They demonstrated that non-first-person language use (compared with
first-person language use) leads people to appraise future stressors in more challenging and less
threatening terms. Finally, a meta-analysis (Study 6) indicated that none of these findings were
moderated by trait social anxiety, highlighting their translational potential. Together, these findings
demonstrate that small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self during introspection
consequentially influence their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social
stress, even for vulnerable individuals.
Keywords: distancing, stress, social anxiety, rumination, self-regulation, emotion regulation
didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. I wanted to do
what’s best for LeBron James and to do what makes LeBron James
happy” (Greenberg, 2010).
Notice how James begins by referring to himself using the
pronoun I, but then quickly switches to using his own name after
indicating that he does not want to make an emotional decision.
Does this shift from I to James represent a mere quirk of speech?
Or could it represent something more—a process, for example,
that consequentially influences people’s capacity to control their
thoughts, feelings, and behavior? Here we suggest that it is the
latter. Specifically, we hypothesize that using one’s own name and
other non-first-person pronouns to refer to the self during introspection is a form of self-distancing that enhances self-regulation.1
During the summer of 2010, LeBron James, a future Hall-ofFame basketball player, faced a tough decision. Should he stay
with the small market team that nurtured his career from its
inception, or move to a larger city market? Shortly after making his
choice (he joined the larger market team), he described his
decision-making process in an interview noting, “One thing I
Ethan Kross, Psychology Department, University of Michigan, Ann
Arbor; Emma Bruehlman-Senecal, Psychology Department, University of
California, Berkeley; Jiyoung Park, Aleah Burson, Adrienne Dougherty,
Holly Shablack, and Ryan Bremner, Psychology Department, University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor; Jason Moser, Psychology Department, Michigan
State University, East Lansing; Ozlem Ayduk, Psychology Department,
University of California, Berkeley.
We thank the many research assistants at Michigan and Berkeley for
their assistance conducting the studies, and Vivian Zayas, Robin Edelstein,
Phoebe Ellsworth, and Oscar Ybarra for their feedback.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ethan
Kross, Psychology Department, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
48109, or to Ozlem Ayduk, Psychology Department, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650. E-mail: ekross@umich.edu or ayduk@
berkeley.edu
Harnessing Language to Promote Self-Regulation
Several lines of research motivate this prediction. First, converging evidence suggests that enhancing psychological distance,
1
People can focus on a variety of stimuli from a psychologically
distanced perspective (e.g., the self, other people, other objects; Trope &
Liberman, 2010). We use the term self-distance to refer to instances in
which people focus specifically on the self from a distanced perspective.
304
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SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
which we construed broadly as the capacity to transcend one’s
egocentric viewpoint of a stimulus, facilitates self-regulation. Research in children and adults indicates, for example, that psychological distancing strategies enhance people’s capacity to exert
self-control when faced with tempting options in the short term
(e.g., Fujita, Trope, Liberman, & Levin-Sagi, 2006; Kober et al.,
2010; Mischel & Rodriguez, 1993; Sigel & McGillicuddy-De Lisi,
2003). In a similar vein, research on self-reflection indicates that
cueing people to reflect on painful past experiences from a selfdistanced or “fly-on-the-wall” visual perspective helps them reflect on their experiences without ruminating (Gruber, Harvey, &
Johnson, 2009; Kross & Ayduk, 2011; also see Ray, Wilhelm, &
Gross, 2008; Wisco & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2011).
The concept of self-distancing also factors prominently into
several cognitive and behavioral treatment paradigms. Beck (1970)
described distancing as a process that allows clients to think
objectively about irrational thoughts and emphasized the importance of this process for effective cognitive therapy (pp. 189 –
190)—a view that many scholars have since echoed (e.g., Fresco,
Segal, Buis, & Kennedy, 2007; Ingram & Hollon, 1986). The
concept of distancing, although sometimes referred to as “decentering” or “self as context,” is also central to many newer forms of
cognitive therapy, which emphasize the importance of enhancing
psychological distance from the self for allowing people to observe
and accept their feelings (e.g., Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, &
Lillis, 2006; Teasdale et al., 2002).
These findings are noteworthy in the current context because
researchers have speculated that the language people use to refer to
the self may influence self-distancing. For example, research on
expressive writing conceptualizes the degree of first-person pronouns that people use when writing about emotional experiences
as a marker of self-distancing—the fewer first-person pronouns
people use, the more people attempt to distance themselves from
their experiences (e.g., Cohn, Mehl, & Pennebaker, 2004; also see
Pennebaker & King, 1999). Supporting this inference, cueing
people to reflect on emotional (Grossmann & Kross, 2010; Kross
& Ayduk, 2008) and nonemotional (Mcisaac & Eich, 2002) experiences from the visual perspective of a psychologically distanced
observer (compared with a first-person visual perspective) leads
them to describe these experiences using fewer first-person pronouns.
Why might certain patterns of language use, in particular people’s use of non-first-person pronouns and their own name to refer
to the self, promote self-distancing? In general, people use these
parts of speech when thinking about, referencing, or speaking to other
people. Thus, if people use these parts of speech to refer to the self,
this may enhance self-distancing by leading people to think about
themselves as though they were someone else—albeit another self
whose inner thoughts and feelings they have privileged access to.
In contrast, people virtually exclusively use first person pronouns
when thinking about or referring to the self from their egocentric
point of view. Thus, people who use these parts of speech during
introspection should think about the self as they normally do—
from a self-immersed, first-person perspective.
In sum, our analysis suggests that the language people use to
refer to the self during introspection may influence self-distancing,
and thus have consequential implications for their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under stress. Our first
goal was to explore this question.
305
Exploring Generalizability to Vulnerable Populations:
Social Anxiety
Our second goal was to explore whether social anxiety moderates the self-regulatory benefits of non-first-person language use
during introspection. We focused on social anxiety because it can
be studied in the laboratory with a high degree of ecological
validity. That is, the situations that socially anxious people fear
most— being evaluated by others in a social context— can be
simulated in the laboratory relatively easily, in ways that lend
themselves well to testing predictions about mechanisms underlying self-regulation. Moreover, social anxiety is one of the most
common forms of anxiety (e.g., Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin, &
Walters, 2005). From the apprehensive partygoer to the anxious
public speaker to the socially phobic patient, countless people
experience social anxiety and the concomitant negative psychological and physical consequences that it generates.
Cognitive models of social anxiety suggest that socially anxious
individuals experience high levels of anxiety in response to the
threat of future social interactions (D. M. Clark & Wells, 1995;
Rapee & Heimberg, 1997). When these situations are possible,
they worry excessively about the likelihood of performing poorly,
which interferes with their performance. The perception and actuality of their poor performance reinforce their negative beliefs
about the self, giving rise to maladaptive postevent processing or
rumination (Brozovich & Heimberg, 2008).
In current cognitive behavioral therapies, social anxiety is
treated by challenging negative expectations about upcoming
events (e.g., D. M. Clark et al., 2003). However, to the extent that
the language people use to refer to the self during introspection
influences self-regulation, it might provide an additional (potentially easily implemented) tool for helping vulnerable populations
cope with social threat.
Research Overview
Seven studies examined whether language use during introspection influences people’s ability to self-regulate under social stress.
Studies 1a and 1b were proof-of-principle studies. They examined
whether using non-first-person pronouns and one’s own name
(non-first-person group from hereon) rather than first-person pronouns (first-person group from hereon) during introspection enhances self-distancing. Studies 2 and 3 then examined the implications of these different forms of self-talk for regulating the
cognitive, emotional, and behavioral sequalae of social stress.
Studies 4 and 5 examined how these different forms of self-talk
influence the way people appraise future stressors. Finally, Study
6 consisted of a meta-analysis that combined data from Studies 2
through 5 to examine whether trait social anxiety moderates the
self-regulatory effects of non-first-person language use.
Studies 1a and 1b
Our starting point is that using non-first-person pronouns and
one’s own name to refer to the self during introspection promotes
self-distancing. One way to test this prediction is to examine
whether language use during self-reflection influences the vantage
point that people adopt when visualizing emotional experiences. If
non-first-person language use (i.e., “linguistic” self-distancing)
KROSS ET AL.
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306
enhances self-distancing, then people who use this type of language during introspection should be more likely to report seeing
themselves in their past experience from an observer’s visual
perspective (i.e., “visual” self-distancing) than people who use
first-person pronouns during introspection. This logic is broadly
consistent with construal level theory, which suggests that potentiating psychological distance in one domain enhances psychological distance in other domains (Trope & Liberman, 2003, 2010).
We tested this prediction by asking participants to analyze their
feelings surrounding an anger-provoking (Study 1a) and anxietyprovoking (Study 1b) negative autobiographical experience using
first-person pronouns or non-first-person pronouns and their own
name. We focused on two types of negative emotional experiences
in these studies to examine the reliability and generalizability of
our findings. After participants analyzed their feelings, we asked
them to indicate the degree to which they adopted the visual
perspective of an observer as they reflected on their feelings.
(Study 1a: n ⫽ 28; Study 1b: n ⫽ 44). The instructions used to
manipulate linguistic self-distancing were identical in both studies.
Participants in the first person group were told:
One of the things we’re interested in in this study is the language
people use to understand their feelings. Some people try to understand
their feelings by thinking about themselves using first-person pronouns, so this is what we would like you to do. Please try to
understand why you felt the way you did in the experience you just
recalled using the pronouns “I” and “my” as much as possible. In
other words, ask yourself, “Why did I feel this way? What were the
underlying causes and reasons for my feelings?”
Participants in the non-first-person group were told:
One of the things we’re interested in in this study is the language
people use to understand their feelings. Some people try to understand
their feelings by thinking about themselves using their own name and
other non-first-person pronouns, so this is what we would like you to
do. Please try to understand why you felt the way you did in the
experience you just recalled using the pronoun “you” and “[your own
name]” as much as possible. In other words, if your name was Jane,
you would ask yourself, “Why did Jane feel this way? What were the
underlying causes and reasons for Jane’s feelings?”2
Method
Participants. In Study 1a, participants were 56 undergraduates (Mage ⫽ 18.95 years, SDage ⫽ 4.74; 38 females; 52% White,
23% Asian American, 11% African American, and 14% other)
who received course credit for their participation. In Study 1b, 93
participants were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk
(MTurk; Mage ⫽ 32.23 years, SDage ⫽ 12.98; 50 females; 79.6%
White, 12.9% Asian American, 2.2% African American, and 5.5%
other).
Procedure and materials.
Baseline affect. After providing informed consent, participants in both studies rated how they felt “right now” (1 ⫽ very
negative, 9 ⫽ very positive; Study 1a: M ⫽ 6.35, SD ⫽ 1.17; Study
1b: M ⫽ 6.74, SD ⫽ 1.46).
Negative experience recall task. Next, we asked participants
to recall for Study 1a an anger-related autobiographical experience:
No matter how well two people get along there are times when they
experience conflict . . . [T]ake a few moments right now to recall a
time when you experienced such conflict with another person—a time
when you became truly enraged at this person.
For Study 1b, we asked participants to recall an anxiety-related
autobiographical experience:
No matter how satisfied people are with their lives, there are times
when they worry and experience anxiety . . . [T]ake a few moments
right now to think about a time from your past when you worried
about something happening to you.
They were given as much time as they needed to recall their
experience (Study 1a: Msec ⫽ 37.18, SDsec ⫽ 19.36; Study 1b:
Msec ⫽ 45.16, SDsec ⫽ 24.72). Aside from cueing people to recall
different types of experiences, the only other difference between
the two sets of recall instructions was that in Study 1b, we
instructed participants to “close their eyes” before the memory
recall instructions, whereas participants in Study 1a did not receive
this instruction.
Experimental manipulation. Participants were then randomly
assigned to reflect on their feelings surrounding their recalled
experience using first-person pronouns (Study 1a: n ⫽ 28; Study
1b: n ⫽ 49) or non-first-person pronouns and their own name
Participants had 60 s to reflect on their feelings following these
instructions.
Visual self-distance. Following prior research (Mischowski,
Kross, & Bushman, 2012; Park et al., 2013), participants completed two items to measure visual self-distancing after the reflection period was over. First, participants rated the extent to which
they saw the event replay through their own eyes versus watched
the event unfold as an observer as they analyzed their feelings (1 ⫽
predominantly immersed participant, 7 ⫽ predominantly distanced observer). Second, they rated how far away from the scene
they were as they analyzed their feelings (1 ⫽ very close, saw it
through my own eyes; 7 ⫽ very far, saw it as if an observer).
Ratings on these items were averaged to create a visual selfdistancing index, Study 1a: ␣ ⫽ .74, M ⫽ 2.72, SD ⫽ 1.40; Study
1b: ␣ ⫽ .85, M ⫽ 3.13, SD ⫽ 1.66.
Instructional manipulation check. Because we had less control over the online environment in which Study 1b was performed,
we administered an instructional manipulation check at the end of
the study to ensure that participants paid attention to our instructions. Specifically, participants read, “We are interested in whether you
actually take the time to read the directions . . . [I]n order to
demonstrate that you have read these instructions, please select
‘online shopping’ and ‘check e-mail only’ below.” Participants
were then presented with a series of Internet activity choices with
“online shopping” and “check e-mail only” embedded among
them.
Results and Discussion
Preliminary analyses. Twenty-one participants failed the instructional manipulation check: 14 in the first person group and seven in
the non-first-person group. They were excluded from subsequent
analyses on a priori grounds, leaving 72 participants in Study 1b,
35 in the first person group, and 37 in the non-first-person group.
2
Jane was replaced with Joe for male participants.
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SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
This exclusion rate (23%) is consistent with prior studies that have
used instructional manipulation checks (Oppenheimer, Meyvis, &
Davidenko, 2009). Exclusions did not differ by condition, Study
1a: ␹2(1) ⫽ 0.06, p ⫽ .80; Study 1b: ␹2(1) ⫽ 2.13, p ⫽ .15.
All analyses controlled for baseline affect, which the groups did
not differ on, Fs ⬍ 1. Gender was not related to the dependent
variable in either study, Fs ⬍ 1, and controlling for it did not
substantively alter any of the results. Three participants (one in
Study 1a; two in Study 1b) had missing values because of omitted
responses.
Visual self-distancing. As expected, participants in the nonfirst-person groups displayed significantly higher levels of visual
self-distancing than participants in the first-person groups in both
Study 1a, F(1, 52) ⫽ 5.96, p ⫽ .018, ␩p2 ⫽ .103, and Study 1b, F(1,
67) ⫽ 4.45, p ⫽ .039, ␩p2 ⫽ .062 (see Figure 1). These findings
demonstrate that using non-first-person pronouns and one’s own
name to refer to the self enhances self-distancing.
Studies 2 and 3: Overview
Having established that using non-first-person language to refer
to the self during introspection increases self-distancing, we examined in Studies 2 and 3 whether language use during introspection influences self-regulation under social stress. Both Studies 2
and 3 focused on these same core issues but were designed by
different laboratories and implemented independently. As a result,
they had similar procedures and focused on a partially overlapping
set of dependent variables. Thus, they provide convergent evidence for the role that language use plays in self-regulation across
different situations, laboratories, and measures.3
Study 2
We recruited participants for a study on the psychology of first
impressions. They were told that they would be asked to make a
positive first impression on another person. Prior to engaging in
this task, we asked them to reflect on their feelings concerning
their upcoming social interaction using either first-person pro-
Figure 1. The effect of condition on visual self-distancing in Study 1a
and Study 1b measured on scales ranging from 1 (predominantly immersed
participant) to 7 (predominantly distanced observer). Error bars indicate
standard errors.
307
nouns or non-first-person pronouns and their own name. We then
examined the effect of this manipulation on participants’ anxiety
and performance during the social interaction. We predicted that
participants in the non-first-person group would experience less
anxiety and perform better during the impression formation task.
Method
Participants. Participants were 97 undergraduate women
(Mage ⫽ 20.05 years, SDage ⫽ 1.86; 26.8% White, 49.5% Asian
American, 5.1% African American, and 18.6% other) who received course credit or payment for participating. We focused on
women only in this study because they are disproportionately
affected by anxiety-related problems, including social anxiety
(Kessler et al., 1994; Spurr & Stopa, 2002; Weinstock, 1999).
Procedure and materials.
Phase 1: Trait social anxiety. Participants completed the 12item Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale (BFNE; Leary, 1983)
online approximately 5 days (M ⫽ 5.19 days, SD ⫽ 3.41) before
the study. Sample items include, “I am afraid that others will not
approve of me” and “Sometimes I think I am too concerned with
what other people think of me” (1 ⫽ not at all characteristic of me,
5 ⫽ extremely characteristic of me; ␣ ⫽ .80; M ⫽ 37.03, SD ⫽
9.23).
Phase 2: Cover story and premanipulation anxiety. Informed
consent was obtained at the beginning of the experiment. As part
of this process, we informed participants that they would be having
a videotaped conversation with another participant. Next, participants rated how anxious they felt (1 ⫽ not at all, 5 ⫽ extremely;
M ⫽ 2.30, SD ⫽ 0.96).
Phase 3: Explanation of study. An experimenter told participants that the study focused on impression formation. Specifically, they were told that their goal would be to make a good first
impression during a short conversation with an opposite sex participant after which they would be evaluating each other’s performance. In addition, they were informed that their conversation
would be videotaped and assessed by trained psychologists who
would be rating their social skills. Such “getting to know you”
tasks are commonly used to elicit social anxiety in the laboratory
(e.g., J. V. Clark & Arkowitz, 1975; Glass, Merluzzi, Biever, &
Larsen, 1982; Turner, Beidel, & Larkin, 1986).
Next, the experimenter added that an additional goal of the study
was to examine how people can effectively prepare themselves to
make good first impressions. Thus, they were told that they would
be receiving instructions about how to prepare themselves for their
social interaction in a few moments. After these instructions were
conveyed, the experimenter left the participant alone in a room
without any distractions for 2 min. During this time, the experimenter retrieved the participant’s condition assignment from another room.
Phase 4: Experimental manipulation. After the 2-min waiting period, the experimenter told participants, “We are interested
in the different ways people go about preparing themselves psychologically for meeting new people and what effect each type of
self-preparation has on performance.” They were then randomly
3
In Studies 2 and 3, a number of additional measures were included for
exploratory purposes. They are available upon request from the corresponding authors.
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308
KROSS ET AL.
assigned to a first-person (n ⫽ 48) or non-first-person (n ⫽ 49)
condition using instructions that were virtually identical to those
used in Study 1. The main difference was that participants were
asked to think about their feelings concerning an upcoming
anxiety-provoking event (rather than a past experience). Following
these instructions, participants reflected over their thoughts and
feelings alone for 3 min.
Phase 5: Manipulation check and preinteraction anxiety.
Following the experimental manipulation, participants answered
the following questions, “How well do you feel you followed the
speech preparation instructions” (1 ⫽ not at all well, 5 ⫽ perfectly
well) and “To what extent did you use the first-person pronouns I
and me (or non-first-person pronouns you and your own name) to
refer to yourself when you were working through your thoughts
and feelings about the upcoming conversation (1 ⫽ not at all, 5 ⫽
exclusively). Scores on these questions were averaged to create a
manipulation check index (␣ ⫽ .68; M ⫽ 3.79, SD ⫽ 0.70). Next,
participants rated their anxiety again, using the same question that
was administered prior to the manipulation (M ⫽ 2.84, SD ⫽
0.97).
Phase 6: Social evaluation task. Subsequently, the experimenter introduced the participant to a new experimenter and their
interaction partner, who was in fact a confederate. Prior research
indicates that opposite sex interactions are more anxiety provoking
than same sex interactions, especially for socially anxious people
(e.g., Turner et al., 1986). Therefore, following prior research (e.g.,
Burgio, Merluzzi, & Pryor, 1986; J. Clark & Arkowitz, 1975;
Glass et al., 1982; Kashdan & Roberts, 2006), the confederate in
this study was always male. Both the new experimenter and
confederate were blind to condition.
Unstructured interaction. The interaction began when the new
experimenter and confederate entered the room and sat across from
the participant. The experimenter told the participant that he or she
had to leave the room to calibrate the cameras and would return
shortly. The participant was given no instructions about how to
interact with the confederate during this period. We included this
unstructured interaction period to explore whether the manipulation influenced participants’ tendencies to spontaneously initiate
conversation with their partner. Confederates were instructed not
to initiate conversation for the first 30 s. After an initial silence of
30 s, the confederate initiated contact by saying, “It wasn’t easy to
find the room here today.” Three condition-blind raters coded
whether participants initiated conversation during the first 30 s
(intraclass correlation [ICC] ⫽ 1).
Structured interaction. When the experimenter returned, he or
she presented the participant and the confederate with instructions
for the social interaction. Following the procedure used by Meleshko and Alden (1993), participants were given a list of topics to
talk about (e.g., “What have you always wanted to try but
haven’t?”; “What is your biggest pet peeve?”). The experimenter
instructed them to take turns selecting and answering questions
from this list until they had both answered four questions. The
confederate always began the exchange and disclosed on the same
four questions with all participants. Confederates’ responses were
scripted so that the content and delivery of their disclosures was
consistent. The experimenter left the room prior to the initiation of
the conversation and returned after the conversation was over.
Three judges rated participants’ performance during this phase
on two dimensions. First, they rated how nervous the participant
was (1 ⫽ below average level of nervousness, 5 ⫽ above average
level of nervousness; ICC ⫽ .73; M ⫽ 2.87, SD ⫽ 0.78). Second,
they rated participants’ overall performance using a modified
version of the Social Performance Rating Scale (Fydrich, Chambless, Perry, Buergener, & Beazley, 1998)—a behavioral assessment of social performance designed for social phobia. Specifically, judges coded participants’ behavior along the following four
dimensions using a 5-point scale (1 ⫽ poor, 5 ⫽ excellent): gaze,
vocal quality, speech length, and discomfort (ICC ⫽ .73).4 Gaze
refers to whether the participant made appropriate eye contact with
the confederate. Vocal quality refers to whether the participant
spoke clearly and varied her vocal tone in an engaging manner.
Length refers to whether the participant spoke for an appropriate
amount of time when answering the questions (i.e., neither being
overly brief nor long-winded) and lacked awkward pauses. Discomfort refers to whether the participant showed verbal (e.g.,
speech dysfluencies) and nonverbal (e.g., self-manipulative behaviors like hair twirling, facial touching, and so on) indicators of
anxiety during the interaction. Following Fydrich et al. (1998), we
created a measure of overall performance by summing participants’ scores on these dimensions (␣ ⫽ .80; M ⫽ 13.10, SD ⫽
2.05).
Preliminary analyses indicated that scores on the nervousness
and overall performance indexes were highly correlated. Therefore, we collapsed them to create a composite behavioral index of
social interaction performance after reverse scoring the nervousness scale and then standardizing scores on each measure (␣ ⫽
.84).
Phase 7: Postinteraction anxiety. Participants rated their anxiety at the end of the interaction using the same question they
completed earlier (M ⫽ 1.81, SD ⫽ 0.92).
Phase 8: Debriefing. Finally, participants were debriefed for
suspicion and compensated.
Results
Preliminary analyses. Four participants in each condition
were excluded—four because they suspected that their partner was
a confederate and/or inferred the study aims during the funneled
debriefing, and four because of protocol errors (e.g., the confederate did not follow protocol)—leaving 89 participants, 44 in the
first-person group and 45 in the non-first-person group. Exclusions
did not differ by condition, ␹2(1) ⫽ 0.00, p ⫽ .98.
The groups did not differ on premanipulation anxiety, t(86) ⫽
0.54, p ⫽ .590, or trait social anxiety, t(87) ⫽ ⫺0.61, p ⫽ .541.
Both of these variables were, as expected, related to several of the
dependent variables (see Table 1). Therefore, they were included
as covariates. Degrees of freedom vary slightly across analyses due
to missing data.
Manipulation check. There was no effect of condition on the
manipulation check, F(1, 84) ⫽ 0.00, p ⫽ .973, ␩p2 ⫽ .000
(first-person: M ⫽ 3.80, SE ⫽ 0.10; non-first-person: M ⫽ 3.80,
SE ⫽ 0.10), indicating that both groups followed the instructions
equally well. It should be noted that one-sample t tests indicated
that the mean manipulation check score for each group was significantly greater than the midpoint of the manipulation check
4
We did not include the conversational flow category because the
structured nature of the interaction did not allow us to code this dimension.
SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
309
Table 1
Study 2 Zero-Order Correlations Between Measured Variables
Variable
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Trait social anxiety
Premanipulation anxiety (T1)
Preinteraction anxiety (T2)
Postinteraction anxiety (T3)
Conversation initiation
Performance
Note. T ⫽ Time.
p ⱕ .10. ⴱ p ⱕ .05.
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
†
1
ⴱⴱ
p ⱕ .01.
2
—
ⴱⴱⴱ
3
†
.18
—
ⴱ
.23
.33ⴱⴱⴱ
—
4
5
6
⫺.04
.43ⴱⴱⴱ
.29ⴱⴱ
—
.09
⫺.16
.04
.01
—
⫺.05
.08
.04
.04
⫺.04
—
p ⱕ .005.
scale: first-person: t(43) ⫽ 13.95, p ⬍ .001, d ⫽ 4.25; and
non-first-person: t(44) ⫽ 12.14, p ⬍ .001, d ⫽ 3.66, indicating that
both groups also implemented the instructions successfully.
Anxiety. We examined the effect of condition on state anxiety
by performing a repeated-measures analysis of covariance (ANCOVA).
Time (t) of state anxiety assessment was the within-participant
variable (three: premanipulation [t1] vs. preinteraction [t2] vs.
postinteraction [t3]), condition was the between-participants variable (two: first-person vs. non-first-person), and trait social anxiety
(continuous) was the covariate. This analysis revealed two effects.
First, condition interacted marginally with time, F(2, 84) ⫽
2.93, p ⫽ .059, ␩p2 ⫽ .065. To understand the meaning of this
interaction, we performed univariate ANCOVAs on the change in
anxiety from the (a) first to the second anxiety assessment (preinteraction anxiety [t2] MINUS premanipulation anxiety [t1]), and
(b) the second to third anxiety assessment (postinteraction anxiety
[t3] MINUS preinteraction anxiety [t2]) with condition as the
between-subjects predictor and trait social anxiety as the covariate.
These tests demonstrated that condition did not influence change
in anxiety from the first to the second anxiety assessment, F(1,
85) ⫽ 0.12, p ⫽ .726, ␩p2 ⫽ .001, but did influence change in
anxiety from the second to the third anxiety assessment, F(1,
86) ⫽ 4.12, p ⫽ .045, ␩p2 ⫽ .046. As Figure 2, Panel A illustrates,
the latter result indicated that participants in the non-first-person
group displayed a sharper decrease in anxiety after the social
interaction than participants in the first-person group. This effect
remained significant when performance during the structured
phase of the interaction was controlled for, F(1, 83) ⫽ 4.14, p ⫽
.045, ␩p2 ⫽ .048, suggesting that it was not the case that people felt
better simply because they performed better.
Second, trait social anxiety interacted with time to predict state
anxiety, F(2, 84) ⫽ 3.48, p ⫽ .035, ␩p2 ⫽ .077. To understand the
meaning of this interaction, we conducted parallel analyses as
described previously. These analyses revealed no relationship between trait social anxiety and change in state anxiety from the first
to the second anxiety assessment, F(1, 85) ⫽ 0.18, p ⫽ .670, ␩p2 ⫽
.002, but a significant association between trait social anxiety and
change in state anxiety from the second to the third anxiety
assessment, F(1, 86) ⫽ 5.65, p ⫽ .020, ␩p2 ⫽ .062. The latter result
demonstrated that the more apprehensive participants were about
social evaluation, the more their anxiety levels declined following
the interaction, pr ⫽ –.25, p ⫽ .020, possibly reflecting the relief
socially anxious individuals experienced after the interaction was
over.
Behavior. We performed logistic regression on initiating contact (yes ⫽ 0 vs. no ⫽ 1) with the confederate during the unstructured phase of the social interaction task with condition as the
between-subjects predictor and trait social anxiety and premanipulation anxiety as covariates. None of these variables significantly
predicted contact initiation, ps ⬎ .13. However, this likely reflects
a ceiling effect as 84% of participants initiated conversation without prompting.
Figure 2. The effect of condition on anxiety over time (Panel A) and adaptive social interaction performance
(Panel B) in Study 2. Error bars indicate standard errors. Time 1 ⫽ t1.
KROSS ET AL.
310
Next, we performed an ANCOVA on judges’ ratings of performance during the structured phase of the interaction with condition as the between-subjects predictor and trait social anxiety and
premanipulation anxiety as covariates. Judges’ ratings indicated
that the non-first-person group performed better on the social
interaction task than the first-person group, F(1, 82) ⫽ 7.18, p ⫽
.009, ␩p2 ⫽ .081 (see Figure 2, Panel B). Neither premanipulation
anxiety, F(1, 82) ⫽ 0.51 p ⫽ .478, ␩p2 ⫽ .006, nor trait social
anxiety, F(1, 82) ⫽ 0.08, p ⫽ .774, ␩p2 ⫽ .001, predicted this
variable.
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Summary and Discussion
Study 2 examined whether the language people use to refer to
the self during introspection influences how they feel and behave
under social stress. It generated three key findings.
First, both groups were equally capable of implementing the
self-talk manipulations. This suggests that using non-first-person
language during introspection is a feasible alternative to using
first-person language.
Second, contrary to our expectations, condition did not influence the increase in anxiety participants reported from the first to
the second assessment. However, condition did predict changes in
anxiety from the second to the third anxiety assessment, indicating
that participants in the non-first-person group (compared with the
first-person group) displayed a sharper decrease in anxiety from
before to after the social interaction. This finding is particularly
noteworthy because it suggests that using non-first-person language to refer to the self during introspection may lead people to
recover more quickly from social stressors.
Finally, the experimental manipulation influenced participants’
behavior during the social interaction. Judges indicated that participants in the non-first-person group were less nervous during the
interaction and performed better than their first-person counterparts. These findings highlight the adaptive behavioral implications that using non-first-person pronouns and one’s own name
during introspection have for people when they engage in tasks
that elicit social stress.
Study 3
Study 3 examined the implications of the same two types of
self-talk that Study 2 focused on for allowing people to regulate
their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social evaluative
stress. However, a different social stress induction was used, the
focus was on different dependent variables, and men as well as
women were included. In so doing, we aimed in Study 3 to extend
the Study 2 findings in four ways.
First, in Study 3, we examined whether the Study 2 results
would generalize to an arguably more powerful social stress induction—a public speech task rather than an impression formation
task (Beazley, Glass, Chambless, & Arnkoff, 2001; Turner et al.,
1986). Building on prior research indicating that visual selfdistancing manipulations generalize to powerful negative affect
inductions (Mischowski et al., 2012), we predicted that the benefits
associated with using non-first-person pronouns and one’s own
name during introspection would generalize to this novel context.
Second, although Study 2 included a premanipulation measure
of affect that the two groups did not differ on, this measure was
administered after participants were informed about the nature of
the study. Thus, one could argue that the premanipulation anxiety
measure used in Study 2 did not constitute a true baseline measure
because anxiety was likely induced to a certain degree among all
participants. Study 3 included a true baseline affect measure that
was administered before participants learned about the nature of
the study.
Third, whereas Study 2 focused specifically on anxiety, Study 3
included measures of both global affect and shame. Shame is the
key discrete emotion elicited by public speech tasks (Dickerson &
Kemeny, 2004).
Finally, prior research indicates that people often perseverate
over their performance in social-anxiety-provoking tasks, which
fuels social anxiety—a process that is often referred to as postevent
processing (Brozovich & Heimberg, 2008; also see NolenHoeksema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008). Therefore, Study 3
included multiple measures of postevent processing to examine
whether the experimental manipulations influenced this variable.
To the extent that reflecting on the self using non-first-person
pronouns and one’s own name enhances people’s ability to regulate their social anxiety, we predicted that participants who engaged in this process should also display less postevent processing.
Method
Participants. Participants were 89 undergraduates (60 females; Mage ⫽ 19.01 years, SDage ⫽ 1.04; 73.0% White, 12.4%
Asian American, 6.7% African American, and 7.9% other) who
received course credit or $20 for their participation.
Procedure and materials.
Phase 1: Trait social anxiety. We assessed trait social anxiety
using two measures to enhance reliability: the BFNE (␣ ⫽ .88;
M ⫽ 36.02, SD ⫽ 8.13) and the 17-item Social Phobia Inventory
(SPIN; Connor et al., 2000; scale: 0 ⫽ not at all, 4 ⫽ extremely;
␣ ⫽ .88; M ⫽ 21.19, SD ⫽ 9.91).5 Sample items for the SPIN
include, “I am bothered by blushing in front of other people,” and
“Parties and social events scare me.” Both measures were administered approximately 4 days before the experiment (Mdays ⫽ 3.66,
SDdays ⫽ 1.76). Scores on the BFNE and SPIN were standardized
and collapsed to form a single trait social anxiety index (␣ ⫽ .69).
Phase 2: Baseline affect. After providing informed consent,
participants rated how they felt “right now” (1 ⫽ very negative,
7 ⫽ very positive; M ⫽ 4.93, SD ⫽ 1.07).
Phase 3: Stress induction. We induced social stress using a
modified version of the Trier Social Stress Task (TSST; Kirschbaum, Pirke, & Hellhammer, 1993). This task involves having
participants deliver a public speech in front of an evaluative
audience without receiving sufficient time to prepare; it is one of
the most powerful ways of inducing stress in the laboratory among
humans (Dickerson, Gruenewald, & Kemeny, 2004; Dickerson &
Kemeny, 2004). Following established procedures (Kirschbaum et
al., 1993), the experimenter told participants that they would have
to give a speech on why they are qualified for their “dream” job to
a panel of interviewers trained to evaluate speech performance.
They were also told that their performance would be videotaped.
5
Due to a protocol error, SPIN Item 17 was not administered. We
replaced this missing value with each participant’s mean rating of the first
16 items.
SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
They were then taken to a small room, which contained a desk and
chair, and given 5 min to prepare. They were not permitted to take
notes during this time.
Phase 4: Experimental manipulation. After the 5-min preparation period, participants were told:
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Besides preparing the content of a speech, people also need to prepare
themselves psychologically before giving a speech, so we are interested in learning about the different ways people go about preparing
themselves to give a speech, and what effect each type of selfpreparation has on performance.
They were then randomly assigned to the first-person (n ⫽ 45)
or the non-first-person (n ⫽ 44) condition using instructions that
were virtually identical to those used in Study 2. The key differences were that (a) in this study, participants were directed to
analyze their emotions before giving a speech (rather than before
engaging in a social interaction task) and (b) “he or she” was given
as an example of the type of non-first-person pronoun participants
in the non-first-person condition could use in addition to “you.’
Phase 5: Speech task. Next, the experimenter returned and led
the participant to another room where they delivered their 5-min
speech to two confederates posing as evaluators. A video camera
positioned in their field of vision recorded their performance.
Phase 6: Speech performance. Two condition-blind coders
watched videotapes of participants’ speeches and rated them on
three dimensions: confidence, nervousness, and overall performance (1 ⫽ below average, 5 ⫽ above average). After reverse
scoring the nervousness scores, coders’ ratings were found to be
consistent across these dimensions (Rater 1: ICC ⫽ .75; Rater 2:
ICC ⫽ .78). Therefore, we collapsed across all three dimensions to
create a single speech performance index for each coder. Judge’s
ratings on these indexes were collapsed to form a single speech
performance index (␣ ⫽ .86; M ⫽ 3.39, SD ⫽ 0.83).
Phase 7: Postspeech global affect and shame. After participants delivered their speeches, they again rated how they felt “right
now” to allow measurement of global affect (1 ⫽ very negative,
7 ⫽ very positive; M ⫽ 4.72, SD ⫽ 1.16). Next, they completed 10
items that compose the Shame and Pride subscales (e.g., “I want to
sink into the floor and disappear,” “I feel proud”; 1 ⫽ not feeling
this way at all, 5 ⫽ feeling this way very strongly) of the State
Shame and Guilt Scale (Marschall, Sanftner, & Tangney, 1994).
We focused on how the manipulation influenced emotions that fall
on the shame–pride dimension because they are particularly relevant to public speech challenges (Dickerson et al., 2004). Responses to these items were averaged after reverse scoring the
pride ratings, so that higher scores reflected greater shame (␣ ⫽
.90; M ⫽ 20.25, SD ⫽ 7.16).
Phase 8: Postevent processing. Next, the experimenters informed participants that they had to set up the next phase of the
study in another room and asked them to sit quietly until they
returned in 5 min. This provided participants with an opportunity
to ruminate over their speech performance (for a similar approach
to assessing rumination, see Ayduk & Kross, 2008; Gerin, Davidson, Christenfeld, Goyal, & Schwartz, 2006; Zoccola, Dickerson,
& Zaldivar, 2008). At the end of this 5-min period, postevent
processing was assessed in two ways.
First, we asked participants to describe in writing the stream of
thoughts that flowed through their mind as they waited for the
experimenter to return. Using a 0 (not at all) to 4 (completely)
311
scale, two condition-blind raters coded these essays for recounting
and reconstruing. Prior research has linked the tendency to ruminate over negative experiences with higher levels of recounting
and lower levels of reconstruing (Ayduk & Kross, 2010b; Grossmann & Kross, 2010; Kross, Ayduk, & Mischel, 2005). Recounting was operationalized as statements in which participants rehearsed the specific chain of events and emotions that they
experienced during the speech task (e.g., “I was feeling nervous
and fidgeted a lot while I was speaking”). Reconstruing was
operationalized as statements in which participants described realizations about their experience during the task (e.g., “I was only
given 5 min to prepare my speech and was thus almost set up to not
do well”). Interrater reliability was high for both recounting
(ICC ⫽ .79; M ⫽ 1.13, SD ⫽ 1.34) and reconstruing (ICC ⫽ .82;
M ⫽ 0.49, SD ⫽ 0.81). Following prior research (e.g., Ayduk &
Kross, 2010b; Kross & Ayduk, 2008; Kross, Duckworth, Ayduk,
Tsukayama, & Mischel, 2011), we collapsed across both measures
by subtracting reconstruing scores from recounting scores to create
a single thought content index. Higher scores reflected a greater
tendency to recount versus reconstrue (M ⫽ 0.63, SD ⫽ 1.21).
Second, after participants wrote their essay, they completed the
five-item Rumination Questionnaire (RQ; Mellings & Alden,
2000), which we modified to apply to a speech task. Specifically,
participants rated (1 ⫽ not at all, 7 ⫽ a lot) five items that assessed
the degree to which they brooded over their speech task performance (e.g., “To what extent did you criticize yourself about not
handling the speech task well?”; ␣ ⫽ .70; M ⫽ 3.65, SD ⫽ 1.11).
As expected, these two postevent processing measures were
closely related (␣ ⫽ .71). Therefore, we created a single index of
maladaptive postevent processing by collapsing the data after
standardizing scores on each measure.
Phase 9: Debriefing. Participants were debriefed at the end of
the study for suspicion and then compensated. No participant
voiced suspicion about the study.
Results
Preliminary analyses. The groups did not differ on baseline
affect, t(85) ⫽ 0.26, p ⫽ .798, trait social anxiety, t(87) ⫽ 0.70, p ⫽
.485, or gender, ␹2(1) ⫽ 0.09, p ⫽ .764. As in Study 2, baseline affect
and trait social anxiety were included as covariates. Gender was not
related to any of the dependent variables, and controlling for it did not
substantively alter any of the results (for zero-order correlations, see
Table 2). Therefore, it is not discussed further. Degrees of freedom
vary across analyses due to missing data.
Affect: Global affect and shame. To facilitate comparisons
between global affect and shame, we first reverse scored participants’ baseline and postmanipulation global affect scores so that
higher numbers on these scales reflected more negative affect,
consistent with scores on the Shame scale. We then examined the
effect of condition on global affect by performing a repeatedmeasures ANCOVA with time of global affect measurement as the
within-participants variable (two: baseline vs. postspeech task),
condition as the between-participants variable (two: first-person
vs. non-first-person) and trait social anxiety as the covariate. This
analysis revealed a significant condition by time interaction, F(1,
83) ⫽ 8.39, p ⫽ .005, ␩p2 ⫽ .092, indicating that participants in the
first-person group displayed a significant increase in negative
affect over time, F(1, 42) ⫽ 9.80, p ⫽ .003, ␩p2 ⫽ .189. As Figure
KROSS ET AL.
312
Table 2
Study 3 Zero-Order Correlations Between Measured Variables
Variable
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Trait social anxiety
Gender
Baseline affect
Performance
Global affect
Shame
Postevent processing
1
—
2
.12
—
3
.01
⫺.01
—
4
⫺.07
.00
⫺.11
—
5
.09
⫺.02
⫺.01
.35ⴱⴱⴱ
—
6
7
ⴱ
.26
.06
⫺.09
⫺.30ⴱⴱⴱ
.69ⴱⴱⴱ
—
.21ⴱ
.06
.00
⫺.07
.26ⴱ
.35ⴱⴱⴱ
—
Note. To facilitate comparisons between global affect and shame, we reverse scored participants’ baseline and
postmanipulation global affect scores so that higher numbers on the scales reflected more negative affect.
ⴱ
p ⱕ .05. ⴱⴱⴱ p ⱕ .005.
3, Panel A, illustrates, however, participants in the non-first-person
group were buffered against this increase, F(1, 40) ⫽ 1.20, p ⫽
.280, ␩p2 ⫽ .029. The interaction between trait social anxiety and
time was not significant, F(1, 84) ⫽ 0.13, p ⫽ .719, ␩p2 ⫽ .002.
We also performed an ANCOVA on shame with condition as
the between-subjects predictor, controlling for trait social anxiety
and baseline affect. This analysis revealed an effect of condition,
F(1, 82) ⫽ 7.70, p ⫽ .007, ␩p2 ⫽ .086. As Figure 3, Panel B,
illustrates, non-first-person participants felt less shame after the
speech task. Although the effect of baseline affect was not significant, F(1, 82) ⫽ 0.60, p ⫽ .441, ␩p2 ⫽ .007, there was a significant
effect of trait social anxiety in the predicted direction, F(1, 82) ⫽
5.20, p ⫽ .025, ␩p2 ⫽ .060 —trait social anxiety and shame correlated positively, pr ⫽ .24, p ⫽ .025.
Finally, conceptually replicating the Study 2 results, the effect
of condition on global affect, F(1, 81) ⫽ 9.47, p ⫽ .003, ␩p2 ⫽ .105,
and shame, F(1, 81) ⫽ 4.91, p ⫽ .030, ␩p2 ⫽ .057, remained
significant when controlling for performance.
Behavior. The effect of condition on speech performance was
significant, F(1, 83) ⫽ 5.43, p ⫽ .022, ␩p2 ⫽ .061. As Figure 3,
Panel C, illustrates, non-first-person participants performed better
during the speech task. The effects of trait social anxiety, F(1,
83) ⫽ 0.21, p ⫽ .652, ␩p2 ⫽ .002, and baseline affect, F(1, 83) ⫽
1.19, p ⫽ .278, ␩p2 ⫽ .014, were not significant.
Postevent processing. The effect of condition on postevent
processing was significant, F(1, 83) ⫽ 5.47, p ⫽ .022, ␩p2 ⫽ .062,
indicating that non-first-person participants engaged in less postevent processing than first-person participants (see Figure 3, Panel
D). The effects of trait social anxiety, F(1, 83) ⫽ 2.21, p ⫽ .141,
␩p2 ⫽ .026, and baseline affect, F(1, 83) ⫽ 0.01, p ⫽ .941, ␩p2 ⫽
.000, were not significant. The effect of condition on postevent
Figure 3. The effect of condition on global affect (Panel A), shame (Panel B), adaptive speech task
performance (Panel C), and postevent processing (Panel D) in Study 3. Error bars indicate standard errors.
SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
processing, F(1, 82) ⫽ 5.12, p ⫽ .026, ␩p2 ⫽ .059, remained
significant when controlling for performance.
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Summary and Discussion
In sum, participants who used non-first-person pronouns and
their own name during introspection performed better on the
speech task, experienced less global negative affect and shame
after delivering their speech, and engaged in less postevent processing. These findings extend the Study 2 results in three ways.
First, they demonstrate that non-first-person language use during introspection promotes self-regulation under conditions that
are well known to arouse both psychological and physiological
stress—an anxiety-provoking public-speaking challenge. Second,
they demonstrate that language use during self-reflection has implications not simply for how people think and feel in the moment
but also for their tendency to engage in postevent processing. This
finding is particularly noteworthy given the role that postevent
processing plays as a risk factor for poor psychological (e.g.,
Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008) and physical (Brosschot, Gerin, &
Thayer, 2006) health, and its prevalence in social phobia (e.g.,
Brozovich & Heimberg, 2008). Finally, controlling for gender did
not alter any of the results we observed. This suggests that the
benefits associated with language use as a tool for promoting
self-regulation may extend to both genders. Future research that
includes larger samples of men is needed, however, to confirm this
finding.
Studies 4 and 5 Overview
The aforementioned studies demonstrate that non-first-person
language use during introspection is a form of self-distancing that
promotes self-regulation under social stress. However, they do not
address how this process influences people’s appraisals of future
anxiety-provoking events. Studies 4 and 5 addressed this issue.
Study 4
Study 4 had three goals. Its first goal was to examine how
language use during introspection influences people’s appraisals of
future stressors. In particular, it sought to examine the effect of
language use on challenge-threat appraisals.
People naturally appraise future stressors along a challenge–
threat continuum (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1996; also see Lazarus
& Folkman, 1984). Challenge appraisals occur when people perceive their ability to cope (i.e., their resources) with a situation as
exceeding the demands of the situation; threat appraisals occur
when people perceive the demands of the situation as exceeding
their ability to cope (e.g., Blascovich & Tomaka, 1996; Lazarus &
Folkman, 1984).
In the current study, we hypothesized that non-first-person language use would lead people to appraise future stressors in more
challenging and less threatening terms. This prediction was motivated by research indicating that visual self-distancing leads people to focus relatively less on the concrete, emotionally arousing
aspects of negative past experiences and relatively more on reconstruing their experiences in ways that provide insight and closure
(for review, see Ayduk & Kross, 2010a; Kross, 2009; Kross &
Ayduk, 2011; cf. Fujita et al., 2006; Trope & Liberman, 2003,
313
2010). In the current context, we reasoned that focusing on the
concrete, emotionally arousing aspects of a future stressful experience are precisely those elements of the situation that should lead
a person to conclude that the demands of the situation outweigh his
or her ability to cope—i.e., less challenge and more threat. The
primary goal of Study 5 was to test this hypothesis.
A secondary goal was to rule out two alternative predictions
concerning how language use influences the way people cognitively represent future stressors. First, we examined the relationship between language use during introspection and cognitive
avoidance—that is, avoiding cognitions that give rise to anxiety.
We focused on this relationship because a number of researchers
have speculated that self-distancing blunts emotional reactions via
a cognitive avoidance mechanism (e.g., Kenny & Bryant, 2007;
Kenny et al., 2009; Kuyken & Moulds, 2009).
Another possibility is that non-first-person language use enhances people’s tendency to imagine how they appear from the
perspective of the audience evaluating them. This prediction is
motivated by research indicating that psychological-distancing
manipulations can enhance perspective taking (e.g., Eyal &
Epley, 2010; Schultz & Heimberg, 2008). Although there is
conflicting evidence on whether such perspective taking is
helpful (e.g., Galinsky, Maddux, Gilin, & White, 2008) or
harmful (e.g., Schultz & Heimberg, 2008), we nevertheless
examined whether non-first-person language use enhances audience perspective taking to examine the role that this process
plays in the phenomenon at hand.
The final goal of this study was to examine the reliability of our
failure to observe an effect of language use on anticipatory anxiety
in Study 2. As noted previously, this null effect was unexpected.
Thus, we measured anticipatory anxiety again in this study to
examine whether it would replicate.
We examined these issues using a modified version of the
speech task paradigm used in Study 3. Specifically, we replicated
the Study 3 procedure with the following exceptions. After participants reflected on their feelings, we asked them to rate the
extent to which they appraised the upcoming speech task as a
challenge or threat, and their current level of anticipatory anxiety.
We then asked participants to describe in writing the stream of
thoughts that flowed through their mind during the reflection
period and coded these essays for challenge–threat appraisals,
avoidance, and audience perspective taking.
After participants completed the writing task, they were informed that the study was over and debriefed. We did not have
participants deliver their speech because we felt that asking participants to answer each of the aforementioned questions and then
describe in writing how they thought about their experience would
compromise the downstream effects of the manipulations, muddying the conclusions we could draw about outcomes that were
measured subsequently (for similar argument, see Ellsworth &
Gonzalez, 2003; Kassam & Mendes, 2013; Spencer, Zanna, &
Fong, 2005).
Method
Participants. Participants were 97 undergraduates (66 females; Mage ⫽ 20.39 years, SDage ⫽ 5.16; 51% White, 35% Asian
American, 8% African American, and 6% other) who received
course credit or $20 for participating in this two-session study.
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314
KROSS ET AL.
Eleven participants did not return for the second session, and five
participants declined to participate after learning that they would
have to give a speech (but before the manipulations were administered). Thus, data were not available from these participants for
analyses.
Procedure and materials.
Phase 1: Trait social anxiety. During a pretest session held
approximately 9 days before the experiment (M ⫽ 8.56 days,
SD ⫽ 5.73), participants completed the BFNE (␣ ⫽ .88; M ⫽
36.64, SD ⫽ 8.61) and SPIN (␣ ⫽ .90; M ⫽ 19.46, SD ⫽ 11.14).
Scores on these measures were standardized and collapsed to form
a trait social anxiety index (␣ ⫽ .74).
Phase 2: Baseline affect. During a laboratory session following the pretest, participants provided informed consent and then
rated how they felt “right now” (1 ⫽ very negative, 7 ⫽ very
positive; M ⫽ 5.20, SD ⫽ 1.15).
Phase 3: Stress induction. See Study 3.
Phase 4: Experimental manipulation. See Study 3.
Phase 5: Self-report appraisals and anticipatory anxiety.
After the reflection period, participants completed a brief survey
that contained three questions. We measured threat by asking
participants, “How demanding do you expect the upcoming speech
task will be?” (1 ⫽ not very demanding, to 7 ⫽ extremely demanding; M ⫽ 3.27, SD ⫽ 0.92). We measured challenge by
asking participants, “How well do you think you will be able to
cope with the speech task?” (1 ⫽ not very well, 5 ⫽ extremely
well; M ⫽ 3.35, SD ⫽ 0.84). Finally, we measured anticipatory
anxiety by asking participants, “How stressed/anxious do you feel
about the upcoming speech task?” (1 ⫽ not very stressed/anxious,
7 ⫽ extremely stressed/anxious; M ⫽ 3.40, SD ⫽ 1.00). Following
prior research (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1996; Epel, Daubenmier,
Moskowitz, Folkman, & Blackburn, 2009), we computed a
challenge-to-threat ratio by dividing challenge scores by threat
scores (M ⫽ 1.19, SD ⫽ 0.77) to index appraisals. Higher scores
on this measure indicated that participants appraised the speech
task more as a challenge (vs. threat).
Phase 6: Stream of thought essays. Next, participants described in writing the stream of thoughts that flowed through their
mind during the reflection period. Using a 0 (not at all) to 3
(completely) scale, two raters blind to condition coded these essays
on the following dimensions.
Challenge and threat appraisals. We operationalized challenge as statements in which participants indicated that they could
cope with the upcoming stressor and/or statements in which participants provided advice or encouragement to themselves to facilitate their performance (e.g., “I feel well experienced for my
dream job, and I know that if I can talk about it correctly . . .”). We
operationalized threat as statements in which participants indicated
feeling unprepared or overwhelmed by the demands of task (e.g.,
“I thought about my stress level and how well I would do in this
task. I fear I will be too nervous and not speak well”).
Cognitive avoidance. We operationalized avoidance as statements indicating that participants thought about something other
than their upcoming speech task (e.g., “I started to think about
other things”).
Audience perspective taking. We operationalized audience
perspective taking as statements indicating that participants put
themselves in the shoes of the other people involved in the event
they were thinking about to surmise how they would be viewed by
them (e.g., “I was focused on saying what I think others would
want to hear”).
Interrater reliability was good for threat (ICC ⫽ .89; M ⫽ 1.21,
SD ⫽ 1.12), challenge (ICC ⫽ .77; M ⫽ 1.78, SD ⫽ 1.10),
cognitive avoidance (ICC ⫽ 1.00; M ⫽ 0.02, SD ⫽ 0.13), and
audience perspective taking (ICC ⫽ .69; M ⫽ 0.10, SD ⫽ 0.33).
We divided coded challenge appraisals by coded threat appraisals
after adding a constant (“1”) to judges’ ratings of each essay so
that the scores could be divided. Higher scores reflected more
challenge compared with threat appraisals (M ⫽ 1.81, SD ⫽ 1.29).
The stream-of-thought essay measure was added to the protocol
shortly after the study began. Therefore, nine participants were
missing data on this measure. In addition, five participants disclosed their condition in their essays. Therefore, data from these
participants were not included in the analyses involving essayderived variables; there was no way of doing so without revealing
participants’ condition information to the coders.
Phase 7: Debriefing. Participants completed a funneled debriefing at the end of the study to assess whether they were aware
of the study aims and followed instructions. They were then
debriefed and compensated.
Results
Preliminary analyses. Two participants in the first-person
group and four participants in the non-first-person group were
excluded on a priori grounds—five indicated that they did not
believe they would have to deliver a speech and one indicated that
he did not follow the manipulation instructions—leaving 75 participants, 37 in the first person group and 38 in the non-first-person
group. Exclusions did not differ by condition, ␹2(1) ⫽ 0.65, p ⫽
.42.
The groups did not differ on baseline affect, t(72) ⫽ 0.82, p ⫽
.425, trait social anxiety, t(73) ⫽ ⫺0.11, p ⫽ .914, or gender,
␹2(1) ⫽ 0.01, p ⫽ .941. As in Studies 2 and 3, baseline affect and
trait social anxiety were included as covariates. Gender was related
to self-report challenge–threat appraisals such that women displayed more challenge–threat appraisals than men (see Table 3).
However, controlling for this variable did not influence the results.
Therefore, it is not discussed further. Degrees of freedom vary
slightly across analyses due to missing data.
Challenge versus threat. Condition significantly predicted
self-report challenge–threat appraisals, F(1, 70) ⫽ 7.24, p ⫽ .009,
␩p2 ⫽ .094. Non-first-person participants appraised the speech task
in more challenging and less threatening terms than first-person
participants (see Figure 4, Panel A). Baseline affect, F(1, 70) ⫽
10.24, p ⫽ .002, ␩p2 ⫽ .128, and trait social anxiety, F(1, 70) ⫽
7.69, p ⬍ .007, ␩p2 ⫽ .099, also predicted this variable— baseline
affect was positively related to this variable, pr ⫽ .36, p ⫽ .007,
whereas trait social anxiety negatively related to it, pr ⫽ –.32, p ⫽
.007.
Condition also predicted coded challenge–threat appraisals, F(1,
54) ⫽ 6.17, p ⫽ .016, ␩p2 ⫽ .103—non-first-person participants
appraised the task in more challenging and less threatening terms
than first-person participants (for examples, see Table 4; also see
Figure 4, Panel B). Neither baseline affect, F(1, 54) ⫽ 0.78, p ⫽
.382, ␩p2 ⫽ .014, nor trait social anxiety, F(1, 54) ⫽ 1.47, p ⫽ .231,
␩p2 ⫽ .026, predicted this variable.
SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
315
Table 3
Study 4 Zero-Order Correlations Between Measured Variables
Variable
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1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
1
Trait social anxiety
Gender
Baseline affect
Anticipatory anxiety
Challenge–threat (self-report)
Challenge–threat (essay)
Audience perspective taking
Avoidance
—
2
.14
—
3
.07
⫺.12
—
4
.20
.08
⫺.17
—
5
ⴱ
⫺.26
⫺.29ⴱ
.29ⴱ
⫺.60ⴱⴱ
—
6
7
8
⫺.18
⫺.07
.00
⫺.42ⴱⴱ
.43ⴱⴱ
—
.06
⫺.13
.01
.12
⫺.15
⫺.27
—
⫺.09
.08
⫺.03
⫺.05
⫺.04
⫺.05
⫺.05
—
Note. Higher scores on baseline affect and global affect reflect lower levels of negative affect. Higher scores on challenge–threat reflect more challenge
relative to threat appraisals.
ⴱ
p ⱕ .05. ⴱⴱ p ⱕ .01.
Cognitive avoidance and audience perspective taking. We
observed a floor effect on avoidance—1% of the essays contained
avoidance content. Thus, we did not examine this variable further.
Neither condition, F(1, 54) ⫽ 0.07, p ⫽ .795, ␩p2 ⫽ .001, nor trait
social anxiety, F(1, 54) ⫽ 0.07, p ⫽ .799, ␩p2 ⫽ .000, nor baseline
anxiety, F(1, 54) ⫽ 0.03, p ⫽ .874, ␩p2 ⫽ .000, predicted audience
perspective taking.
Anticipatory anxiety. The effect of condition on anticipatory
anxiety was significant, F(1, 70) ⫽ 4.78, p ⫽ .032, ␩p2 ⫽ .064.
Non-first-person participants (M ⫽ 3.19, SE ⫽ 0.15) reported
feeling less anxious about their upcoming speech than first-person
participants (M ⫽ 3.67, SE ⫽ 0.15). We also observed marginally
significant effects of trait social anxiety, F(1, 70) ⫽ 3.43, p ⫽
.068, ␩p2 ⫽ .047, and baseline affect, F(1, 70) ⫽ 3.32, p ⫽ .073,
␩p2 ⫽ .045. Higher scores on trait social anxiety positively predicted anticipatory anxiety, pr ⫽ .22, p ⫽ .068, whereas baseline
affect negatively predicted it, pr ⫽ –.21, p ⫽ .073.
Summary and Discussion
In Study 4, we examined whether the language people use to
reflect on their anxious feelings when preparing to give a public
speech alters the way they appraise that event. It generated four
key findings.
First, as predicted, participants who reflected on their feelings
using non-first-person language appraised their upcoming speech
in more challenging and less threatening terms than participants
who reflected on their feelings using first-person language. This
effect was observed on two types of appraisal measures, highlighting the robustness of these results. These findings are noteworthy
because prior research indicates that challenge–threat appraisals
influence how people think, feel, and behave under social stress.
Specifically, challenge (compared with threat) appraisals predict
adaptive subjective, physiological, and behavioral responses (e.g.,
Blascovich, Seery, Mugridge, Norris, & Weisbuch, 2004; Dienstbier, 1989; Jamieson, Nock, & Mendes, 2012).
Second, in contrast to the Study 2 results but consistent with our
initial predictions, non-first-person participants displayed less anticipatory anxiety than first-person participants. Thus, it is possible
that our failure to observe an effect on anticipatory anxiety in
Study 2 was due to chance. Given that we expected and found an
effect of condition on this variable in Study 4, we caution against
overinterpreting the null results in Study 2.
Figure 4. The effect of condition on the ratio of self-reported (Panel A) and coded (Panel B) challenge–threat
appraisals in Study 4. Error bars indicate standard errors.
KROSS ET AL.
316
Table 4
Sample Threat and Challenge Appraisals as a Function of Condition in Study 4
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Stream-of-thought essay samples
First-person condition:
I thought that I was so nervous because when I give a speech, I need to feel prepared; however, I don’t think I am prepared enough to give a
speech such as this one.
I can’t prepare an oral speech in 3 min. It takes days for me to examine my strengths, weaknesses, etc. I need to have my oral speech written down
and perfected, and therefore, this is not going to work out.
Nervousness. Shock. Not much time to prepare. What did I get myself into? Oh, my goodness. My palms are sweating. What are my weaknesses?
Think of really good strengths.
Non-first-person condition:
First, I asked myself what was I nervous about? It’s not like this will be the first interview or speech I’ve ever had to give. And even if it doesn’t
go perfectly, it won’t be the end of the world. I mostly think reassuring and comforting thoughts to motivate and encourage myself.
The topic of my speech, specific wording, the times that I have given a speech like this before. The fact that it’s not a “speech” and that word is
often associated with a scare tactic and panic inducer.
I told myself that I’m not under a lot of pressure for this. I’m qualified and have worked hard; I have confidence in my abilities.
Note. 73% of participants who received the highest possible score on the challenge-to-threat ratio variable were in the non-first-person group; 67% of
participants who received the lowest possible score on the challenge-to-threat ratio variable were in the first-person group.
Finally, virtually no one avoided focusing on their feelings. This
is consistent with research indicating that adopting a visual selfdistanced perspective to analyze one’s feelings does not promote
cognitive avoidance (Ayduk & Kross, 2010b; Kross & Ayduk,
2008, 2009; Kross, Gard, Deldin, Clifton, & Ayduk, 2012). We
also failed to find a significant effect of language use on audience
perspective taking, which suggests that using non first person
language to reflect on one’s feelings does not differentially prime
people to think about how they appear in the eyes of others
compared to first person language use. These findings, in conjunction with the aforementioned challenge–threat appraisal results,
begin to demonstrate how non-first-person language use does and
does not influence the way people think about future anxietyprovoking stressors.
Study 5
The primary goal in Study 5 was to conceptually replicate the
effect of language use on challenge–threat appraisals using a larger
sample from a different participant pool. We accomplished this
goal by recruiting participants using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
The second goal was to examine the generalizability of the
effect of language use on challenge–threat appraisals. Toward this
end, we asked participants to reflect on their feelings surrounding
any future anxiety-provoking event (not just a speech task).
Our final goal was to refine our understanding on how language
use influences challenge–threat appraisals by more directly assessing the relationship between these variables. In Study 4,
challenge–threat appraisals were measured by asking participants
to self-report how they appraised their upcoming speech task and
then retrospectively report on the stream of thoughts that flowed
through their mind when they analyzed their feelings. Although
both of these are valid measures that are regularly used to interpret
how people appraise events, they are both one step removed from
the appraisal process itself. That is, they do not directly assess the
thoughts and feelings that become activated when people reflect on
events. To directly assess such thoughts, we implemented an
alternative approach in Study 5 that involved asking participants to
work through their current thoughts and feelings surrounding an
upcoming anxiety event in writing using first-person or non-first-
person language. By having people write about their thoughts and
feelings as they experienced them, we hoped to obtain a direct
window into how the language manipulations influence the way
people appraise upcoming social stressors.6
Method
Participants. Participants were 153 individuals (72 female;
Mage ⫽ 34.64 years, SDage ⫽ 12.38; 82.4% White, 7.8% Asian
American, 3.3% African American, and 6.5% other) who were
recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (Mturk). They were
compensated $0.50 for their participation.
Procedure and materials.
Cover story. We obtained informed consent at the beginning
of the experiment. Participants were recruited for a study on
“writing about emotions from a certain perspective.”
Baseline emotion. Participants rated how they felt “right now”
using a sliding scale (0 ⫽ very positive, 100 ⫽ very negative; M ⫽
33.92, SD ⫽ 20.50).
Trait social anxiety. Next, participants completed the BFNE
(␣ ⫽ .94; M ⫽ 32.65, SD ⫽ 9.31).
Social anxiety reflection task. We then asked participants to
think about a current source of social anxiety. They read the
following instructions:
No matter how satisfied people are with their lives, there are times that
they worry and experience anxiety about things that may go wrong
when they interact with other people. Take a few moments right now
to think about a specific experience with another person or people that
you worry about happening to you from time to time. This could be
as minor as worrying about a friend not calling you back or more
serious like giving a speech in front of lots of people. As you do this,
try to identify a specific experience that makes you feel especially
anxious whenever you think about it. Although it may be difficult,
most people can usually come up with at least one potential social
event that they worry about. Take your time as you try to do this.
6
Additional measures were included for exploratory purposes in this
study. They are available upon request from the corresponding authors.
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SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
We categorized the type of socially anxious experiences participants reflected on into the following categories: work-related
(12%; e.g., job interview; anxiety-provoking colleague interaction), money-related (3%; e.g., borrowing money; being homeless), health-related (4%; worrying about family member’s health),
performance-related (19%; e.g., class presentation; exam performance), interpersonal-relationship-related (40%; e.g., interacting
with ex-partner; being excluded from a group), or other (22%; e.g.,
impending move).
Experimental manipulations. The experimental manipulation
was virtually identical to those in previous studies. The only
differences were that participants were asked to write (rather than
think) using first-person or non-first-person language to refer to
the self.
Appraisals. Two condition-blind judges rated each essay for
challenge (ICC ⫽ .78, M ⫽ 0.46, SD ⫽ 0.91), threat (ICC ⫽ .81,
M ⫽ 1.78, SD ⫽ 1.02), avoidance (ICC ⫽ .72, M ⫽ 0.07, SD ⫽
0.30), and audience perspective taking (ICC ⫽ .84, M ⫽ 0.65,
SD ⫽ 0.87) using the same criteria as in Study 4. To preserve
judges’ blindness to condition, all non-first-person participant essays were converted into first-person essays—that is, names and
non-first-person pronouns were replaced with I or my, and the
appropriate verb tenses and articles were modified to ensure clarity
by a third experimenter who did not code the essays.
Following the procedure used in Study 4, we computed challenge (vs. threat) scores by dividing challenge by threat after
adding a constant (“1”) to each index (M ⫽ 0.73, SD ⫽ 0.85).
Higher scores reflected more challenge compared with threat appraisals.
Debriefing. Participants were asked to “describe any other
activities that [they] were engaging in while [they] filled out the
survey” and then thanked.
Results
Preliminary analyses. In the current study, participants’ essays constituted the manipulation check—that is, by reading participants essays, we were able to determine if they (a) used the type
of language they were instructed to use when writing about their
anxiety-provoking experience and (b) wrote about a current or
future anxiety-provoking experience. Twenty-nine participants
failed this check and were thus excluded on a priori grounds—17
wrote about a past (rather than current or future) anxietyprovoking experience, and 12 did not write about an anxietyprovoking experience using the type of language they were asked
to use. In addition, seven participants indicated that they were
doing something else while they participated (e.g., watched TV,
text messaging) and were thus also excluded on a priori grounds.
This left 117 participants, 62 in the first-person group and 55 in the
non-first-person group. Exclusions did not differ by condition (20
in the first-person and 16 in the non-first-person, ␹2(1) ⫽ 0.07, p ⫽
.79. The overall exclusion rate (24%) is consistent with the rate
observed in Study 1b, which also used Mturk.
The groups did not differ on baseline affect, t(115) ⫽ 1.05, p ⫽
.295; trait social anxiety, t(115) ⫽ 0.21, p ⫽ .983; gender, ␹2(1) ⫽
0.63, p ⫽ .426; or type of social anxiety provoking experience,
␹2(6) ⫽ 5.39, p ⫽ .495.7 Controlling for gender and type of social
anxiety provoking experience did not substantively alter any of the
results we report. Therefore, these variables are not discussed
317
further. As in Studies 2– 4, baseline affect and trait social anxiety
were included as covariates (for zero order correlations, see Table
5). Degrees of freedom vary across analyses due to missing data.
Challenge versus threat. Conceptually replicating the Study
5 findings, condition predicted challenge (vs. threat) appraisals,
F(1, 113) ⫽ 14.27, p ⬍ .001, ␩p2 ⫽ .112—the writing samples of
non-first-person participants (M ⫽ 1.01, SE ⫽ 0.11) contained
more challenge (vs. threat) appraisals than the writing samples of
first-person participants (M ⫽ 0.44, SE ⫽ 0.10). Table 6 provides
examples of the appraisals participants wrote in each condition.
They demonstrate that asking people to use their own name and
other non-first-person pronouns to refer to the self transformed the
way participants thought about their experiences.8
Alternative mechanisms: Avoidance and audience perspective taking. Similar to Study 4, we observed a floor effect on
avoidance— 6% of the essays contained avoidance content. Thus,
we did not examine this variable further.
Neither condition, F(1, 113) ⫽ 0.29, p ⫽ .592, ␩p2 ⫽ .003, nor
baseline affect, F(1, 113) ⫽ 0.40, p ⫽ .531, ␩p2 ⫽ .003, predicted
audience perspective taking. Trait social anxiety did, however,
predict this variable, F(1, 113) ⫽ 5.64, p ⫽ .019, ␩p2 ⫽ .048 —
higher scores on trait social anxiety predicted more audience
perspective taking, pr ⫽ .22, p ⫽ .019.
Summary and Discussion
These findings conceptually replicate the Study 4 results. They
also demonstrate that the effect of language use on challenge–
threat appraisals generalizes to thinking about a range of socialanxiety-provoking experiences (not only a speech task) and to a
nonundergraduate sample.
Study 6
Although we included trait social anxiety as a covariate in
Studies 2–5, we did not examine whether this variable interacted
with condition in any of these studies because our statistical power
to observe significant interactions in each study was low, considerably lower than our power to detect significant main effects
(Frazier, Tix, & Barron, 2004; Smith, 2000). To overcome this
limitation, we performed a meta-analysis in Study 6 on the data
from Studies 2–5 (for a similar approach, see Selcuk, Zayas,
Gunaydin, Hazan, & Kross, 2012). Specifically, we examined
whether trait social anxiety interacted with condition to predict the
following dependent measures, which were assessed in more than
one study: anticipatory anxiety (Studies 2– 4), postmanipulation
affect (Studies 2–3), challenge–threat (Studies 4 –5), behavior
(Studies 2 and 3), and audience perspective taking (Studies 4 and
7
Because there was overlap between the work- and performance-related
categories, we also collapsed across them when performing covariate
analyses. Doing so did not influence any results.
8
After the manipulation, participants were asked to rate how difficult it
was for them to implement the instructions. Non-first-person participants
reported experiencing marginally more difficulty than first-person participants, F(1, 113) ⫽ 3.48, p ⫽ .07, ␩2p ⫽ .030. The effect of condition on
challenge–threat appraisals remained highly significant when we controlled for this variable, F(1, 112) ⫽ 12.13, p ⫽ .001, ␩2p ⫽ .098. Thus, the
subjective difficulty of the manipulation (or dysfluency) does not account
for the effect of language use on appraisals.
KROSS ET AL.
318
Table 5
Study 5 Zero-Order Correlations Between Measured Variables
Variable
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1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Trait social anxiety
Gender
Baseline affect
Challenge–threat
Audience perspective taking
Avoidance
1
2
— .04
—
3
ⴱⴱⴱ
.28
.16†
—
4
5
6
ⴱ
⫺.14
.21
⫺.11
.05
⫺.03
.00
—
⫺.04
—
⫺.03
⫺.03
⫺.02
⫺.11
.12
—
Note. Higher scores on baseline affect reflect lower levels of negative
affect. Higher scores on challenge-threat reflect more challenge relative to
threat appraisals.
†
p ⱕ .10. ⴱ p ⱕ .05. ⴱⴱⴱ p ⱕ .005.
5). We did not examine the moderating role of trait social anxiety
on avoidance because we observed a floor effect on this variable in
both of the studies that assessed it.
Prior research indicates that vulnerable individuals (i.e., those
who score high on individual difference measures of depression or
bipolar disorder) benefit as much, or more, from reflecting on
emotional experiences from a visual self-distanced perspective as
nonvulnerable individuals (Gruber et al., 2009; Kross & Ayduk,
2009; Kross et al., 2012; Wisco & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2011). Extrapolating from these findings, we expected people who scored
high on trait social anxiety to benefit as much or more from
engaging in non-first-person self-talk as people who scored low on
trait social anxiety on each of the dependent measures we examined.
Method
Data analytic strategy. To obtain effect sizes for the interaction between condition and trait social anxiety, we first computed
the condition by trait social anxiety interaction term in each study.
Next, we computed the correlation between this interaction term
and the dependent variable of interest in each study, controlling for
baseline affect, condition, and trait social anxiety. We then transformed effect sizes to z scores using Fisher’s r-to-z transformation.
Finally, the transformed effect sizes (i.e., z scores) were weighted
by the sample size and averaged across studies (see Table 7). The
significance value for this average weighted effect size was computed by dividing it by the standard error. This yielded a Zobt test
statistic with a corresponding p value (for similar approach, see
Zayas & Shoda, 2005).
Results and Discussion
Descriptive statistics. The translational relevance of the results of this study depends largely on whether participants in our
samples represent the full spectrum of social anxiety scores. Ideally, one would want to have a sufficient number of individuals
who scored low and high on trait social anxiety to draw inferences
about the generalizability of this work. Therefore, we first examined whether trait social anxiety scores in each study were normally distributed and covered the range of possible scores on the
trait social anxiety scales we administered. As Table 8 demonstrates, both of these criteria were met.
To further address this issue, we examined whether any participants in our samples displayed trait social anxiety scores that
resembled those scores displayed by people diagnosed with social
phobia. Carleton, Collimore, McCabe, and Antony (2011) suggested that a score of 25 or above on the BFNES (a shortened
version of the full BFNE scale that we administered in our studies)
reliably distinguishes individuals diagnosed with social anxiety
disorder from individuals diagnosed with other Axis 1 disorders.
Therefore, we used 25 as a cutoff for determining whether the
scores of participants in our studies on this measure resemble those
Table 6
Sample Threat and Challenge Appraisals as a Function of Condition in Study 5
Stream-of-thought essay samples
First-person condition:
I worry about giving a presentation to a customer at work. I am afraid that I will come across as unprofessional or not knowledgeable. I am nervous
that they will ask questions that I will not know the answers for. I think I have these feelings because I have had similar experiences in the past
where I got nervous because I didn’t have an answer.
I am afraid that I won’t get a job if I mess up during an interview. And I always mess up in some way. I never know what to say, and I am always
incredibly nervous. I end up in a feedback loop of nervousness causing bad interviews causing nervousness. Even if I got a job, I think I would
still be afraid of interviews.
A large worry that I have fairly often is regarding public speaking. More specifically, I am in college, so I have many classes that include a number
of students. Often times upwards of 300 students. A worry that I get anxious over is that one day the professor will call on me to answer a
question or further explain a class concept, and I will freeze up and be unable to respond. I have always had a fear of public speaking; it most
likely branches off from my introverted personality. My personality has always been about keeping to myself, and usually staying quiet.
Non-first-person condition:
[Participant’s name], you need to slow down. It’s a date; everyone gets nervous. Oh jeez, why did you say that? You need to pull it back. Come on
man, pull it together. You can do this.
You worry too much about what other people think. You need to focus on what needs to be done, and what you can do to execute it. The simple
fact that other people will be around does [not] change what you need to do. Focus on you, and you will be fine.
You can do this, [participant’s name]! You can arrange this retirement party for [XXX], and get a good turnout even though he is not well liked.
You can come up with a speech. You can get someone else to speak well of him. You can keep the cost of this party within budget.
[Participant’s name], you can do this! You can get people to pay for the meal and drinks, and you can get them to contribute to a gift. You will
make this retirement party a good memory for [XXX].
Note. 75% of participants who received the highest possible score on the challenge-threat variable were in the non-first-person group; 67% of participants
who received the lowest possible score on the challenge-threat variable were in the first-person group. [Participant’s name] and [XXX] are place holders
used to protect confidentiality.
SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
319
Table 7
Effect Sizes (R) Representing the Associations Between Condition ⫻ Trait Social Anxiety and the
Key Dependent Variables Assessed In Studies 2–5
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Condition ⫻ Trait Social Anxiety
Study
Challenge–threat
Perspective
taking
Anticipatory
anxiety
Postmanipulation
affect
Behavior
2
3
4
5
—
—
⫺.05
⫺.12
—
—
⫺.11
.08
⫺.09
—
⫺.11
—
.01
.07
—
—
⫺.09
.04
—
—
Mean weighted z
⫺.09
.02
⫺.10
.04
⫺.03
Note. Dashes indicate that the measure was not assessed. In Study 3, we collapsed shame and global affect (r ⫽
.69, p ⬍ .001) to create a single postmanipulation affect variable. In Study 4, we collapsed self-reported and
content-analyzed challenge–threat scores (r ⫽ .43, p ⬍ .001) to create a single variable. In cases where
participants had scores on one challenge–threat measure but not the other, we used the score they had as their
value.
scores displayed by people with clinically diagnosed social anxiety. For the SPIN, Connor et al. (2000) noted that individuals
diagnosed with social phobia who were judged by a clinician to be
moderately ill to very severely ill scored between 33 and 52.
Table 9 presents the percentage of participants whose trait social
anxiety scores were in the range displayed by people who receive
clinical diagnoses of social phobia. Overall, 10% of our sample
scored in this range. This percentage is remarkably consistent with
the 12% lifetime prevalence of social phobia in the United States
(Kessler et al., 2005), which further suggests that our sample was
representative of the larger population in the prevalence of social
anxiety and included participants characterized by the full spectrum of social anxiety symptoms.9
Meta-analysis. Trait social anxiety did not moderate the effect of language use on anticipatory anxiety, Zobt ⫽ ⫺1.21, p ⫽
.226; challenge–threat, Zobt ⫽ ⫺1.23, p ⫽ .218; audience perspective taking, Zobt ⫽ 0.22, p ⫽ .828; performance under stress,
Zobt ⫽ ⫺0.32, p ⫽ .751; or postperformance affect, Zobt ⫽ 0.51,
p ⫽ .610. Thus, individuals who scored high versus low on trait
social anxiety benefited similarly from introspecting using nonfirst-person language. These findings begin to speak to the potential generalizability of language use as a means of helping vulnerable individuals cope with social anxiety.
Table 8
Trait Social Anxiety Score Distribution Statistics
BFNE scale range
(12– 60)
SPIN scale range (0 – 68)
Study
Skew
Score range
Skew
Score range
2
3
4
5
⫺.08
.25
.58
.51
17–56
19–56
20–59
16–56
—
.47
.83
—
—
3–45
2–47
—
Note. Due to a protocol error, 15 people did not complete the Social
Phobia Inventory (SPIN) in Study 2. Thus, we did not include it in our
analyses. The SPIN was not administered in Study 5. BFNE ⫽ Brief Fear
of Negative Evaluation Scale (shortened version).
General Discussion
Immediately after James’ infamous interview, Internet message
boards were abuzz with people questioning his sanity. Although
such reactions are understandable—we are not accustomed to
people referring to themselves using their own name—the current
findings suggest that doing so promotes self-distancing (Studies 1a
and 1b); enhances people’s ability to regulate their thoughts,
feelings, and behavior under social stress (Studies 2 and 3); and
leads them to appraise social-anxiety-provoking events in more
challenging and less threatening terms (Studies 4 and 5). They also
demonstrate that the self-regulatory effects of this process extend
to people regardless of their dispositional vulnerability to social
anxiety (Study 6).
Basic Science Implications
In addition to highlighting the causal implications of language
use during introspection for self-regulation, these findings extend
research on self-distancing in three ways. First, no previous research has examined how people can self-distance to regulate
anxiety surrounding impending social stressors or examined
whether individual differences in social anxiety moderate this
process. The current findings address these issues directly. They
suggest that self-distancing manipulations may be useful in helping people cope not only with depression and anger related to
ruminating over the past but also social anxiety surrounding the
future.
Second, the current research demonstrates that self-distancing
influences people’s tendency to appraise upcoming social stressors
in more challenging and less threatening terms. In so doing, this
work integrates research on self-distancing with a large literature
on coping and appraisals.
9
In Study 4, 16 participants did not return for the speech task following
the baseline session. The trait social anxiety scores for these participants
were marginally higher than the scores for participants who did return, t ⫽
1.77, p ⫽ .08. However, the trait social anxiety scores of only three of these
participants met the clinical cutoff for social anxiety.
KROSS ET AL.
320
Table 9
Trait Social Anxiety Score Distributions Within Clinical Range
Study
BFNE scores ⱖ 25
SPIN scores ⱖ 33
2
3
4
5
9%
4%
7%
10%
—
12%
17%
—
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Note. Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale (BFNES) refers to a
shortened version of the measure. SPIN ⫽ Social Phobia Inventory.
Third, prior research has relied exclusively on visual imagery
techniques to examine the role self-distancing plays in self-control.
The current findings extend this work by demonstrating that language can be harnessed to promote self-distancing as well. Although these different self-distancing tactics are clearly related
(see Studies 1a and 1b), it would be a mistake (in our view) to
conceptualize them as equivalent for two reasons. First, although
linguistic self-distancing significantly influenced visual selfdistancing in Studies 1a and 1b, it explained only 8% (on average)
of the variance in participants’ visual self-distancing scores. If
these tactics were identical, then one would have expected the
percentage of variance explained to be much higher. Second, it is
possible that one self-distancing tactic might work better than
another in certain contexts. For example, in circumstances where
people have the time and luxury to close their eyes and reflect on
a painful past experience, the visual self-distancing tactic might be
most useful. However, this tactic may be difficult to implement
“online” when people are in the midst of performing a task or
interacting with other people. In such situations, linguistic self-talk
techniques may be easier to implement. A key challenge for future
research is to examine when and why different self-distancing
tactics are maximally effective.
Another important issue to address in future work are the causal
pathways that underlie the effects of non-first-person self-talk on
the different outcomes we assessed in these studies—anticipatory
anxiety, challenge–threat appraisals, performance under stress,
postperformance affect, and postevent processing. On the one
hand, our findings regarding challenge-threat appraisals provide
initial clues about the processes that may explain some of the
benefits of non-first-person self-talk on self-regulation. Specifically, prior research indicates that experimentally enhancing
challenge-threat appraisals enhances performance under stress and
reduces post performance distress and perseveration (e.g., Blascovich et al., 2004; Dienstbier, 1989; Jamieson et al., 2012). For
example, Jamieson, Mendes, Blackstock, and Schmader (2010)
found that cueing people to appraise their anxiety surrounding
having to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in challenging terms led them to perform better on the exam, worry less
about how anxious they were after the exam, and display healthier
patterns of sympathetic nervous system activation. Thus, it is
possible that non-first-person self-talk impacted performance under stress and postmanipulation affect and perseveration via its
effects on appraisals. Future research is needed, however, to confirm these inferences and rule out alternative causal pathways.
On the other hand, the causal relationships between some of the
other variables we assessed in these studies are less clear. The
design we employed did not allow us to examine whether antici-
patory affect mediates the effect of condition on appraisals, or vice
versa, or whether the relationship between these variables is bidirectional. Addressing this question in the future is important for
refining our understanding of how self-talk impacts self-regulation
and will require designs that continuously or semicontinuously
measure affect and appraisals over time to allow for reciprocal and
recursive relationships to emerge.
It is also possible—and we suspect likely—that non-first-person
language use enhances self-control through additional mechanisms
that we did not assess (for a discussion of the importance of
recognizing the potential complexity of identifying causal pathways in psychological research, see Bullock, Green, & Ha, 2010).
For example, it may influence people’s autonomic reactions to
stress and how they strategically deploy their attention before,
during, and after stressful tasks. Future research is needed to
examine whether these and other theoretically relevant variables
play an additional role in explaining how non-first-person language use influences self-regulation.
Another question raised by these findings concerns how they
speak to William James’s (1890) suggestion that referring to the
self using the word me leads people to think about the self as an
object of attention (also see Libby & Eibach, 2011). From our
perspective, language use should promote self-distancing when
people use parts of speech to refer to the self that they typically use
to refer to other people—i.e., second- and third-person pronouns
and one’s own name. Because me is virtually always used to refer
to the self in daily discourse—it is in fact a first-person pronoun—we do not expect people’s use of this pronoun to promote
self-distancing. In part, this is due to the fact that me and I are often
used in conjunction with each other to refer to the self. To
demonstrate this point, we analyzed participants’ essays in Study
5 for the presence of me using the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count.
Note that participants were not explicitly asked to think about
themselves using the pronoun me (they were told to use firstperson pronouns and given I as an example). Nevertheless, the
effect of condition on me was significant, F(1, 134) ⫽ 55.07, p ⬍
.001, ␩p2 ⫽ .29, indicating that first-person pronoun participants
used me more frequently than non-first-person participants. The
use of I and me was also highly correlated, r ⫽ .57, p ⬍ .001.
These findings highlight how tightly interconnected the use of
first-person pronouns are in natural discourse, and how likely they
are to lead to similar types of mental representations of the self.
Links to Construal Level Theory
Psychological distance has been the focus of research in numerous areas of psychology over the past half-century. However,
within the past decade, construal-level theory (CLT; Trope &
Liberman, 2003, 2010) has emerged as the dominant approach to
studying this construct, which raises the following question: How
does the concept of self-distance, as discussed throughout this
article, compare with the concept of psychological distance as
discussed in CLT?
In our view, there is strong conceptual overlap between these
concepts. Both are operationalized in terms of allowing people to
transcend egocentric viewpoints (e.g., Kross et al., 2012; Trope &
Liberman, 2010), both lead people to generate less concrete and
more abstract mental representations (for reviews, see Ayduk &
Kross, 2010a; Kross & Ayduk, 2011; Trope & Liberman, 2010),
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SELF-TALK, REGULATION, AND SOCIAL ANXIETY
and both have been shown to promote self-regulation (e.g., Fujita
et al., 2006; Kross & Ayduk, 2011).
These similarities notwithstanding, whereas people can adopt a
psychologically distanced perspective when focusing on virtually
any type of stimulus (e.g., the self, another person, another object),
the concept of self-distance refers to instances in which people
specifically focus on the self from a distanced perspective. Thus,
one difference surrounding these concepts and the literatures that
use them concerns specificity: whereas research on self-distancing
focuses exclusively on self-relevant phenomena, research on psychological distance has a broader focus.
Another point to consider when comparing these constructs
concerns the assumption in CLT that four types of psychological
distance exist: temporal, spatial, social, and hypothetical (Trope &
Liberman, 2010). Because CLT research has not, to our knowledge, examined self-distance in the way that we manipulate this
process, it is not clear whether it represents an additional distancing dimension, or whether it can be captured by one of the
aforementioned categories. On the one hand, one could argue that
self-distance is a form of “social distance,” which maps onto a
“self-versus-other” distinction (see Liberman, Trope, & Stephan,
2007; Trope & Liberman, 2003). When considering this view,
however, it is important to recognize that asking people to think
about the self from a distanced perspective is very likely to be
psychologically different from reflecting on someone else entirely.
In the former situation, a person has privileged access to his or her
inner thoughts and feelings. In the latter situation, they do not.
Therefore, it is possible that self-distance and social distance
represent different dimensions of psychological distance.10 Future
research is needed to address this issue and is important for
integrating research on CLT and self-distance.
Implications for Socially Anxious Individuals
These findings have multiple implications for research and
theory on social anxiety, as well as coping more generally. With
respect to social anxiety, they highlight the effect that shifting the
language people use to refer to the self under stress has on the
cascade of events during and after a social interaction. In this vein,
the fact that we observed beneficial effects of non-first-person
language use on postevent processing—a cognitive process that
has been linked with maladaptive psychological and physical
health outcomes in both healthy and clinical populations (e.g.,
Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008)—is particularly noteworthy. It suggests that the current findings may have broad implications for
self-control research and practice in multiple populations.
An interesting question for future research concerns whether
stable individual differences characterize the spontaneous use of
non-first-person language to refer to the self during introspection.
The Lebron James interview provides anecdotal evidence suggesting that some people spontaneously think about the self using
non-first-person pronouns and their own name under stressful
circumstances. Consistent with this anecdote, a recent study by
Zell, Warriner, and Albarracin (2012) demonstrated that people are
more likely to use second-person pronouns (compared with firstperson pronouns) when thinking about situations that involve
self-control than those that do not. Whether the spontaneous use of
non-first-person pronouns during self-talk translates into enhanced
self-regulation, however, remains unclear, as does whether certain
321
populations of individuals (i.e., healthy vs. clinical) differentially
engage in this process.
When considering the broader implications of these findings, it
is noteworthy that our manipulation was quite simple—participants were told to use their own name and other non-first-person
pronouns when reflecting over their feelings. That such a small
shift in the way people reflected on the self led to such consistent
results suggests that taking the next steps to examine how these
strategies operate in daily life and generalize to clinical populations may be worthwhile.
Self-Distancing and Its Motivational Context
Finally, it is important to recognize that we studied selfdistancing in a particular context in this study— one in which
participants were asked to self-distance and then analyze their
feelings. We focused on the joint operation of self-distancing and
“asking why” because previous research has consistently shown
that self-distancing in the service of fulfilling such epistemic needs
leads to beneficial outcomes (Kross & Ayduk, 2011; also see
Wilson & Gilbert, 2008). However, it is also possible for people to
self-distance to achieve other goals. For example, a person could
self-distance to observe his or her feelings, an approach that
mindfulness and acceptance-based therapies advocate (Bishop et
al., 2004; Fresco et al., 2007; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002).
They could also self-distance to avoid their emotions, a process
that many researchers would characterize as harmful (Kenny &
Bryant, 2007; Kenny et al., 2009). These examples suggest that
whether self-distancing is helpful or harmful may depend critically
on how people focus on the self and their emotions once they
engage in this process.
This is especially true for social anxiety because some research
indicates that when socially anxious individuals imagine future
stressful social interactions, they spontaneously put themselves in
the shoes of an evaluative audience, suggesting that self-distancing
is harmful for people with social anxiety (e.g., Schultz & Heimberg, 2008). However, the current research clearly demonstrates
that self-distancing, when used to understand one’s emotions, is
quite distinct from focusing on the self from the perspective of an
evaluative audience (i.e., what socially anxious people spontaneously do) and has beneficial downstream consequences for cognition, affect, and behavior. Nevertheless, more research is needed to
replicate these effects in both undergraduate and nonundergraduate
samples characterized by clinical social anxiety.
Concluding Comment
Self-talk is a ubiquitous human phenomenon. We all have an
internal monologue that we engage in from time to time. The
current research demonstrates that small shifts in the language
people use to refer to the self as they engage in this process
consequentially influences their ability to regulate their thoughts,
10
This is not to say that thinking about the self from a distance bears no
similarity to thinking about other people (i.e., social distance). Prior research indicates, for example, that psychological distance diminishes people’s reliance on introspective information (e.g., Pronin & Ross, 2006).
That said, individuals still have privileged access to introspective information when they reflect on the self from a distance in a way that they do not
when they reflect on another person.
KROSS ET AL.
322
feelings, and behavior under social stress, even for people who are
dispositionally vulnerable to social anxiety.
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Received November 17, 2012
Revision received October 1, 2013
Accepted October 21, 2013 䡲
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