In Chatter (Crown, Jan.), psychology professor Kross looks at inner conversations people have with themselves.
What surprised you the most as you studied this topic?
I interviewed dozens of people for the book, representing different cultures and backgrounds. Some interviewees had achieved the highest levels of success in their careers; others were just trying to get by. Regardless of their differences, their experiences struggling with their inner voice were remarkably alike. That really struck me.
Why is sharing one’s troubles not always a good idea?
Decades of research indicate that talking to others isn’t always helpful; it can make us feel better or worse depending on who we talk to and what kinds of conversations we have. In the book, I break down some of the reasons why talking to others about our problems often backfires, and what we can do to make those conversations more productive. Of course, some people manage their chatter just fine using tools that don’t involve sharing with others, and I think that’s an important point to emphasize. Talking to someone else isn’t the only way to improve your chatter, though it certainly can have that effect if you have the right kind of conversation.
You reference rituals such as reciting the rosary as ways to manage anxiety. Are such rituals more effective if performed by believers?
There is evidence indicating that people benefit from rituals regardless of their belief in their efficacy. That said, I do think it is possible that devoted believers may derive added benefit from rituals. In that case, a person would be harnessing both the power of rituals and the power of belief to improve their chatter—a potentially potent combination of chatter-fighting tools.
How is using your own name in talking to yourself a tool for channeling thoughts productively?
It has to do with the ability of language to provide us with distance from our problems, which helps us think more objectively. Many people have had the experience of struggling to work through a problem on their own, but find it easy to advise others going through the same thing. Science shows that when the problem isn’t happening to you—when you have distance from the situation—it’s easier to offer sound advice. Using your name to talk to yourself plays on this mechanism. We typically use names to refer to other people. So, the idea is that when we use this word during self-talk, it leads us to think about ourselves similar to how we think about others, which provides us with the distance we need to work through our problems more objectively.