Want to achieve something? Picture yourself doing it from a third-person perspective

‘Visualise yourself doing it’ is a common slice of advice for people seeking to achieve something. But there are two ways of visualising yourself in a scene: from a first-person perspective as in real-life, or from an external perspective, as an observer might see you. Now Lisa Libby and colleagues have demonstrated that it’s this latter, third-person perspective that is far more effective in raising the likelihood we will go on to perform a desired behaviour.

One hundred and forty-six undergrad participants, all of whom had registered to vote, were asked to imagine themselves going to the polling booth to vote the next day, in what were then the upcoming 2002 presidential elections. Just under half were instructed to do this from a first-person perspective, the remainder were told to do it from a third-person perspective.

Next they answered questions about their attitudes to voting: how important it is to vote, and the lengths they would go to make their vote. Already differences appeared – those students who had visualised themselves voting from a third-person perspective displayed a stronger pro-voting mindset.

But most vitally, 95 of the participants were followed up a few weeks later (an equal proportion from each of the visualisation conditions), and 90 per cent of the participants who’d imagined themselves voting from a third-person perspective reported that they had indeed gone on to vote, compared with just 72 per cent of the first-person perspective participants – a statistically significant difference.

The researchers said these findings extend prior work showing that we tend to interpret other people’s actions as saying something about them, whereas we interpret our own actions as saying more about the situation we’re in. So, when we picture ourselves acting in the third-person, we see ourselves as an observer would, as the ‘kind of person’ who performs that behaviour. “Seeing oneself as the type of person who would engage in a desired behaviour increases the likelihood of engaging in that behaviour”, the researchers said.

Libby, L.K., Shaeffer, E.M., Eibach, R.P. & Slemmer, J.A. (2007). Picture yourself at the polls. Visual perspective in mental imagery affects self-perception and behaviour. Psychological Science, 18, 199-203.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

5 thoughts on “Want to achieve something? Picture yourself doing it from a third-person perspective”

  1. Hi All,I am a postgrad in a non psychology dicipline who is about to convert my BA and MA and study clinical psychology. This is my first look at the research blog and its very interesting. I found the article on picturing yourself in the third person to enable yourself to achieve a desired goal very interesting. I am a keen golfer and have found that positive thought process certainly helps when addressing the ball and achieving a successful shot. I will certainly try the third person approach and see if this is more successful.

  2. Might this be why we often hear superstar athletes in interviews speak of themselves in the third person: “Carmelo Anthony has gotta just go out there and play Carmelo Anthony’s kinda game. If Carmelo Anthony does, his team will win”???

  3. Interesting angle.

    I thought the value of planning in the third person is that you are able to focus on what the purpose and results are; whereas, in first person, you focus on the experience.

  4. All this test proves is people whom already visualized it are more likely to lie since it is so conveniently setup like so. In fact the very interpersonal act of asking someone to imagine it and how much emphasis was then added already offsets things. But likely the tester was also thinking from a third person perspective so he forgot to count himself as a component of the test and he also forgot to empathize with the other people to realize just how many variables in their life would be introduced in that timeframe.

Comments are closed.