Hlaudi's weird way of talking: blame the third force

30 July 2017 - 14:11 By Dave Chambers
Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
Image: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

You might have thought Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s habit of referring to himself in the third person was evidence of egocentrism or even madness. But psychologists say it’s a technique that can help people to deal with stress.

The disgraced former SABC chief operating officer was fond of sayings such as “Hlaudi is going to do miracles“ and “SA is feeling Hlaudi”‚ and researchers from Michigan in the US say they represent an effective way of managing emotions.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports‚ Jason Moser of Michigan State University said using the third person helped people to think about themselves in the same way they think about others.

“That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences‚ which can often be useful for regulating emotions.”

For example‚ said Moser: John is upset about being dumped. By asking himself‚ “Why is John upset?” he is less emotionally reactive than when he asks‚ “Why am I upset?”

The psychologists monitored subjects’ brain activity while showing them disturbing photos‚ such as a man holding a gun to their heads. Activity decreased within a second when they reassured themselves in the third person.

They also asked participants to reflect on painful experiences from their past. When they using third person self-talk‚ there was less activity in a brain region commonly implicated in painful memories‚ suggesting better emotional regulation.

Ethan Kross‚ head of the University of Michigan Emotion and Self-Control Lab‚ said the technique required no more effort than talking to yourself in the first person.

“If this ends up being true there are lots of important implications these findings have for our basic understanding of how self-control works‚ and for how to help people control their emotions in daily life.”

The act of referring to yourself in the third person is called Illeism‚ and Johannesburg clinical psychologist Craig Traub told TimesLIVE last year that it was often a technique leaders used to separate themselves from the crowd.

“When someone speaks in the third person it helps create a following and it creates a sense of authority. People then don’t question the content because they have latched on to the emotion‚” he said.

“It acts as a reminder to others; it’s a way of getting people to remember them.”

- The Times

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