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Talking About Oneself Can Be A Sign Of Emotional Stress

People who tend to engage in one-way conversations or “I-talk” should not be immediately labeled as narcissistic. Their frequent use of “I,” “me,” and “my” could be an indication of their tendency to succumb to emotional stress, a new study suggests.

Narcissism vs Depression

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, titled “Narcissism and the Use of Personal Pronouns Revisited,” found that, contrary to what laypersons know, I-talk or use of personal pronouns is not a consistent marker of narcissism in an individual.

A follow-up study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Arizona (UA) found that this frequent use of I-talk might be a better marker for depression. Using dataset from over 4,700 individuals, researchers measured the use of I-talk in both written and spoken tasks and correlated it with negative emotionality and depression. The individuals who engage more often in I-talk have a predilection for negative emotionality or the propensity to become emotionally distressed or upset over simple things.

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“Previous research had found the one link — between I-talk and depression — but it hadn’t examined moderators in great detail in a large sample. That was the next step,” said lead author and UA research scientist Allison Tackman. “Our results suggest that I-talk may not be very good at assessing depression in particular. It may be better at assessing a proneness not just to depression but to negative emotionality more broadly.”

Researchers pointed out, however, that I-talk should only be interpreted as only an indicator of proneness rather than be used as a marker for depression.

Matthias Mehl, UA psychology professor and co-author of the study, said that identifying what I-talk reflects more is beneficial for those who want to use it as a screening tool. It is important to know whether one is using it to screen for depression or negative emotionality, which covers a broader concept of mental health.

How much I-talk can one engage in before they can be described as prone to emotional distress or depressed? Mehl claims that an average person can speak about 1,400 first-person singular pronouns, while those prone to emotional distress may blurt out these personal pronouns by as much as 2,000 times daily.

The researchers also found that those who use specific types of personal pronouns such as “I” and “me” are the ones that have connection with negative emotionality.


Stress is a common part of an individual’s everyday life. A poll (PDF) conducted by the mtvU Associated Press in 2009 found that as much as 85 percent of students experience stress daily. Being in a stressful situation can lead to behavioral patterns that can become a chronic problem and eventually lead to risk of developing major depression. Certain events may lead to stress and eventually depressive episodes. For instance, losing a job may cause a person to feel negative emotionality such as low self-esteem. They can lead to depression as they lose social contacts that serve as protective barrier.

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