Talking about yourself is more likely to indicate emotional distress rather than narcissism, study reveals

How often do you catch yourself saying I'?

Olivia Petter@oliviapetter1
Wednesday 07 March 2018 12:33

When someone can’t stop talking about themselves, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re a little self-obsessed.

There’s only so much “me, me, me” chatter one person can tolerate before rolling their eyes and glazing over, hearing nothing but flagrant narcissism.

However, new research reveals that those who say “I” a lot could be prone to more than just boring people with their egotistical chatter.

In fact, they might be more susceptible to a string of psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.

Following preliminary findings in 2015 that repeated use of “I”, or “I-talk”, may not indicate narcissism, a new study conducted at the University of Arizona has found that such rhetoric could actually indicate emotional distress.

In terms of what constitutes excessive I-talk, researchers explained that the average person uses 16,000 words on a daily basis with approximately 1,400 of these being first-person singular pronouns such as “I” or “me”.

However, the unbridled I-talker will use these words up to 2,000 times a day.

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study illustrates strong links between I-talk and negative emotionality i.e. those who are easily-upset and may experience tension, anger, depression and/or anxiety.

Researchers gathered their findings by analysing a set of data based on 4,700 residents in Germany and the US.

This data measured levels of I-talk in addition to indications of negative emotionality via written and spoken tasks.

However, lead author Allison Tackman clarified that I-talk alone should not be considered as an indicator for depression.

"It may be better at assessing a proneness not just to depression but to negative emotionality more broadly," she said.

She added that the correlation could also depend on the context in which I-talk occurs.

"If you are speaking in a personal context - so you're speaking about something that's of relevance to you, like a recent breakup - then we see the relationship between I-talk and negative emotionality emerge," Tackman said.

"But if you're communicating in a context that's more impersonal, such as describing a picture, we did not see the relationship emerge."

Interestingly, while repeated use of “me” and “I” was linked to negative emotionality, the frequent use of “my” was not.

Researchers explained this may be because people typically say “my” when they are also talking about another person or object, subsequently taking themselves out of the lexical limelight.

As for why I-talk may be so intrinsically linked with psychological distress, Tackman explains it’s often a case of people obsessing over negative life experiences and how they’ve been affected by them.

"When you think back to being in those places, when you're just so focused on yourself, you may say things like 'Why can't I get better?'

"You're so focused on yourself that not only in your head are you using these first-person singular pronouns but when you're talking to other people or writing, it spills into your language, the self-focus that negative affectivity brings about."

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