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Want to Keep Your Emotions From Getting the Best of You? Think Like Elmo

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Getty Images

Elmo is on to something. The fuzzy red Muppet consistently refers to himself in the third person, a verbal tic that can—for those of us that aren't Muppets—come off as narcissistic, delusional, or just weird. While you may not want to start ditching the "I" in conversation just yet, it turns out there's a pretty compelling case for talking about yourself in the third person in your head.

Thinking about yourself in the third person can help you regulate your emotions, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University in the journal Scientific Reports. It turns out, when you—let's call you Michael—think something like "Michael is really stressed out about work" instead of "I'm really stressed out about work," you place some emotional distance between you and the situation.

In the study, the researchers asked 29 students to look at both upsetting and neutral images (from a standardized set used in other psychology research) and think about their reactions in the first and third person. Their mental reactions were captured by EEG caps. In a second test, 50 people at the University of Michigan were asked to write down eight upsetting memories, then come up with cue words to help trigger those memories later while undergoing an fMRI scan. During the scan, they were instructed to think about these memories in either the first person or while calling themselves by their own name.

When viewing the negative images, participants thinking about themselves in the third person showed a quicker recovery in their brain activity related to emotional reactions—in other words, they went from feeling disturbed to feeling more normal in a shorter amount of time. (Less than one second, in fact.) In the second trial with the fMRI scans, people who thought about their bad memories in the third person showed less activity in areas of the brain associated with processing self-reflection.

It's not a terribly new idea. In therapy, psychologists will often ask you to imagine how you would advise a friend if they were in your situation, since we tend to be harder on ourselves than on others. The third-person technique is also similar to an established meditation technique called the "observing mind" (as opposed to the "thinking mind") in which you try to view your thoughts from a distance, observing how they come and go in a detached, neutral way. That third-person talk can help get you out of your head, so to speak.

In these trials, thinking about negative experiences in the third person didn't take any more cognitive effort than using first person. The researchers note that "that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control." And who doesn't want that?

Not to mention the fact that you'll be joining the ranks of the many famous illeists, an illustrious group that includes Salvador Dalí, Julius Caesar, and George Costanza.

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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
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Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

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Scientists Find a Possible Link Between Beef Jerky and Mania
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Scientist have discovered a surprising new factor that may contribute to mania: meat sticks. As NBC News reports, processed meats containing nitrates, like jerky and some cold cuts, may provoke symptoms of mental illness.

For a new study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, scientists surveyed roughly 1100 people with psychiatric disorders who were admitted into the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore between 2007 and 2017. They had initially set out to find whether there was any connection between certain infectious diseases and mania, a common symptom of bipolar disorder that can include racing thoughts, intense euphoria, and irritability.

While questioning participants about their diet, the researchers discovered that a significant number of them had eaten cured meats before their manic episodes. Patients who had recently consumed products like salami, jerky, and dried meat sticks were more likely to be hospitalized for mania than subjects in the control group.

The link can be narrowed down to nitrates, which are preservatives added to many types of cured meats. In a later part of the study, rats that were fed nitrate-free jerky acted less hyperactive than those who were given meat with nitrates.

Numerous studies have been published on the risks of consuming foods pumped full of nitrates: The ingredient can lead to the formation of carcinogens, and it can react in the gut in a way that promotes inflammation. It's possible that inflammation from nitrates can trigger mania in people who are already susceptible to it, but scientists aren't sure how this process might work. More research still needs to be done on the relationship between gut health and mental health before people with psychiatric disorders are told to avoid beef jerky altogether.

[h/t NBC News]

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