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

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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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science
What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

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Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
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Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

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