The science of self talk

9 Oct

I heard this interesting story on NPR earlier this week:

“So far, evidence that the words you say to yourself could change the way you see yourself is still limited to the self-reports of patients; and the effect on brain physiology hasn’t yet been studied. But Coslett thinks self-talk probably does shape the physiology of perception, given that other sensory perceptions — the intensity of pain, for example, or whether a certain taste is pleasing or foul, or even what we see — can be strongly influenced by opinions, assumptions, cultural biases and blind spots.”

While the evidence is mostly anecdotal, there are studies in the sports psychology  literature suggesting that self talk may have value. Here is a small study of  tennis players:

“Examined the effect of self-talk on performance of 24 junior tennis players (mean age 15.43 yrs) observed during tournament matches. Their observable self-talk, gestures, and match scores were recorded. Players also described their positive, negative, and other thoughts on a postmatch questionnaire. A descriptive analysis of the self-talk and gestures that occurred during competition was generated. It was found that negative self-talk was associated with losing and that players who reported believing in the utility of self-talk won more points than players who did not. These results suggest that self-talk influences competitive sport outcomes.”

Here is another example of this type of research:

“This study examined the effectiveness of different self-talk strategies on increasing performance in different motor tasks. Specifically, four laboratory experiments were conducted to examine the effect of motivational versus instructional self-talk strategies on four different tasks. Included in the experiments were a soccer accuracy test (n=72), a badminton service test (n=48), a sit up test (n=54), and a knee extension task on an isokinetic dynamometer (n=63). Results of the first two experiments indicated that only the participants of the instructional group improved their performance significantly more than the motivational and control groups. Results of the third experiment indicated no significant differences between the three groups, although all groups showed improvements across trials. Results of the fourth experiment showed a significant improvement for both the motivational and instructional groups compared to the control group. It appears that when the task requires fine motor movements, an instructional self-talk strategy is more effective, whereas when the task requires predominantly strength and endurance, both motivational and instructional strategies are effective.”


One Response to “The science of self talk”

  1. 03alwi October 10, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    Self-talk is great if your feeding positive thoughts to yourself. One of the ways I used when I was training daily in Martial Arts. I call it the “You-can-do-it-self-peptalk

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