Wednesday, May 30, 2007

3rd and 1st person narrative in personality change

Benedict Carey writes a piece in the Tuesday NY Times science section (PDF here) reviewing work done by a number of researchers on on how the stories people tell themselves (and others) about themselves do or don't help with making adaptive behavior changes. Third person narratives, in which subjects view themselves from a distance - as actors in their own narrative play - correlate with a higher sense of personal power and ability to make personality changes. First person narratives - in which the subject describes the experience of being immersed in their personal plays - are more likely than third person narratives to correlate with passivity and feeling powerless to effect change. This reminds me of Marc Hauser's distinction of being a moral agent or a moral patient. The third person can be a more metacognitive stance, thinking about oneself in a narrative script while the first person can be a less reflective acting out of the script.


  1. This makes me curious for more elaboration. Is it possible to shift between two positions, at one time feel immersed, at another more distant? How does it relate to different behavioural patterns? Situations? Plenty of new research topics ahead.

  2. My own experience is that it is possible to shift between the two positions, and I think this is a common experience for people who practice techniques like mindfulness meditation, in which the coming and going of thoughts, emotions, ego states, is simply noted without judgment or intervention. Davidson and others have measured changes in brain activity as a result of this kind of meditation.