Science

So she decided to host…a contest!

Here’s a fun read: a New York Times article on the psychology behind how we narrate our own life stories. Researchers have been studying the similarities between how people describe their past and how those descriptions change and influence future decisions. A lot of interesting little tidbits arose from this, including the idea that there may be different ways to treat people who are depressed, depending upon how they view their depression. Some view depression as something outside themselves, like a monster that must be vanquished, while others view it as an innate part of themselves, making psychotherapy more difficult.

Another cool discovery is that when “socially awkward” subjects were asked to describe a past embarrassing childhood incident, those who spoke in the third person were, compared to those speaking in the first person, better able to move past it and recognize how far they had come since then, and many of them even became more social in future interactions following the experiment.

With that in mind, I encourage you all to comment below with a brief story describing an embarrassing incident from your past, using the third person narrative (e.g., “She slung her backpack over her shoulder, not realizing it had caught and pulled up the edge of her dress as she walked down the hallway to Latin class, showing her bum to half the high school.” [Yes, that actually happened to me.])

Then report back to let us all know if you feel better!

Added incentive: best storyteller receives your embarrassing story rendered in a beautiful five-line limerick, plus the proven psychological benefit of exorcising your past!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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12 Comments

  1. Not that I don't want to expose my inner most shame to the public(*), but I mainly want to comment on the concept that, for those people who narrative in third person are already able to disassociate themselves from the event, so no wonder they are able to move past it.

    (*)That's what my blog is for!

  2. I honestly don't recall any big embarrassing moments. Just little ones like talking to a girl and saying "incest" instead of "incense", but nothing major and nothing in front of a lot of people. Hmm. No wonder I'm such an arrogant old man!

    There once was a child in the Midwest

    Who, when meaning incense, said incest

    But if that's his great shame

    Then he grew up too tame

    His pride never put to the test.

  3. She was leaving pre-calc, walking through a crowded hallway sophomore year. She was wearing new capris, that came with this funky belt. Finding her way through the hall, she felt a tug near her waist. Her belt was caught on an elastic tie from the backpack of the upperclassmen in front of her. After being pulled a few feet, he turned around, only to see her caught in his backpack. She struggled for a good 20 seconds to get uncaught, fiddling around her belt.

  4. In a rush to get to class, she grabbed her sweater out of the dryer.

    Mmmmmm. Nothing nicer than a warm, fuzzy sweater on a cold fall day.

    She briskly walked the 2 blocks to campus, mentally reviewing the lecture for the morning. Nematodes–had she remembered to put the slides out?

    Entering the building, she grabbed a cup of coffee from the main office, picked up her folder of notes, and went to the classroom.

    She began writing the outline for the lecture on the board, as students slowly drifted in. For some reason, they were very giggly this morning. I wonder what happened on campus last night?

    Eventually, one of her favorite students told her there was a pair of pantyhose and a sock stuck to the back of her sweater.

  5. He finally had scored a date with his crush, or at least that's what he told himself – they went for a beer in the pub they usually frequented. As she arrived, he elected to give her a kiss on the hand, wanting to show he was a gentleman as well as a show of cheesy humor. He did not know, however, that you weren't supposed to actually kiss the hand, just do the motion. That's when his crush erupted into giggles, and a day later the whole class knew about it.

    A few weeks later, at his birthday party, he found the girl in bed with his best friend. Up until now, he sort of blames the failed kiss on the hand for that.

  6. Those in the study who scored lower on measures of psychological well-being were more likely to see their moods and behavior problems as a part of their own character, rather than as a villain to be defeated. To them, therapy was part of a continuing adaptation, not a decisive battle.

    The findings suggest that psychotherapy, when it is effective, gives people who are feeling helpless a sense of their own power, in effect altering their life story even as they work to disarm their own demons, Mr. Adler said.

    As usual, religion has known about this feature of human psychology for centuries. They have successfully employed personification of weaknesses to help people overcome them, and of course promptly taken credit for the exorcism of those demons.

  7. Berandor, well done! Our first case study, and it confirms the experimenters' results. Very interesting.

    Exarch, good point about religious demons, though I question that it was a conscious decision on the part of a church to do so. In fact I think this study sheds more light on the origin of the demon idea, suggesting that it probably started with a person or among people who had that feeling, that illnesses were outside of themselves, and so incorporated that into their worldview.

  8. So, back then, Berandor would have a priest come and exorcise his hand for leaping out at the girl, shaking a bell and candle at it? heh heh… -and that best friend sounds like he was posessed, too…

    Mine: When, aged 11, she played 'spin the bottle' for the very first time, she got to kiss her first big crush, who was already 12, on the mouth for a full minute (no tongue, of course). This was so exciting, that after about thirty seconds, well, you know how, as a kid, you would sorta half sneeze and a whole lot of snot would just blast out of your nose? That happened. Screaming and frantic facewashing ensued. Boy amazingly enough not despised her afterwards, but said he found her cute like little babies were cute. No further romantic encounters until the age of 16.

    Does feels strange writing about it in third person, though, like your trying to pretend it wasn't you when you should own up to it. But I guess that's why you can trick your brain with it.

    On the religious theme: Yes on the one hand that accounts for demons, though on the other hand, in Catholic church, confession is told to the priest in first person account, so that perhaps is also a not conscious design by the church, to keep you coming back, because you could not rid yourself of your sins on your own.

  9. Ok, so the biggest embarrassing moment in my life is something I refuse to tell people, neither in first nor third person, because it could give people the wrong idea about me as a person, even if I disclaim it by saying that it happened when I was in eighth grade, and seriously who doesn't do stupid shit they regret in eighth grade?

    Anyway, instead of that story, I present this one, which at the time was a little bit horrifying but in retrospect was completely hilarious.

    He had brought his girlfriend of several months back to his dorm room for a night of, ah, satisfying genetic imperatives, as was his wont.

    After the usual preliminaries (which involved, for the record, several Cambrian explosions between the lady's strata, because a gentleman always indulges his lady's interest in, er, paleontology), they moved on to the heavier business of the night. Unbeknownst to our gentleman, primarily because he is in fact totally oblivious to such things but also partly because he doesn't rent porn, the lady had decided on this particular evening to try something new, namely dirty talk. Which is all well and good for all parties involved, but not when one party isn't aware that it's going on.

    So whilst our couple was engaged in The Act and drawing close to a satisfactory conclusion, the lady took it upon herself to to moan breathlessly, "Mmm… What are you doing to me?" The gentleman, being oblivious (see above), thought it was perfectly fucking well obvious what he was doing (after first stopping what he was doing, a little shocked and caught off guard, and inquiring, "What?"), and said so in a rather hurt and exasperated tone.

    Needless to say, that rather killed the mood, at least for the next five minutes. (What can I say? The couple was young, and rather, um, fond of each other.)

    Epilogue: A week later, said lady e-mailed said gentleman to inform him that she would be breaking things off and going back to her ex-boyfriend. Coincidence? Probably. Either way, said ex-boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend from high school, so the gentlemen of our story felt rather vindicated in the end.

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