Don’t scroll first! What were you thinking while waiting for this page to load? Were you capturing yourself having a vacation on a beach? Did one of your friend’s faces randomly pop up inside your mind? Or did you mumble silently in your head because you could not wait longer than 3 seconds for this page to load?
If you answer yes to the last question, you’re probably experiencing an inner speech. Inner speech is the action of talking to oneself by generating voices inside the head in silence and forming auditory information when it is needed to. It usually helps people to do sub-vocalization in reading and writing, rehearses the words before talking, planning and problem-solving, and other forms of verbal communication or critical thinking in daily life.
The Dawn of Inner Speech
Inner speech is a frequent condition for many people but often occurs without consciousness. This means people usually know what they are thinking inside their heads but are not fully aware of how their thoughts formed there—as it feels so natural and common.
Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, theorized the origin of inner speech develops through a social environment. His theory is then supported when it is found that the rates of social interaction have a high positive correlation with a phenomenon called private speech in children. The social interaction in children occurs when they are immersed in cognitively & linguistically stimulating environments and learn how to talk to other people first. After learning how to talk to other people, children will usually talk to themselves out loud while growing up—also known as private speech.
Private speech during childhood will eventually lead the children to do self-talk in their own heads (called inner speech). After it is internalized, inner speech usually becomes shorter and more concise. In addition to that, Bernard Baars, one of the leading researchers in consciousness science, stated that inner speech occurs in humans being as they talk to themselves every moment of the waking day, but it turns a little clearer when it comes to uncommon words such as “infundibulum” or “methylparaben.”
Contrary to Baars, Russell Hurlburt, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas has a theory that inner speech is not for everyone. Hurlburt considers this psychological phenomena as pristine inner experience. Pristine inner experience is that which directly present in awareness before it is distorted by observation or interpretation.
Hurlburt then investigated this phenomena further with his method, Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES). In the DES approach, participants carry a device that beeps randomly at any time in their daily life. When the device beeps, participants should pay attention and record their inner experience that was going on in their mind before the beep sound. Later by the day, participants will meet and be interviewed by a trained researcher in order to identify the forms of their inner experience.
After that, he and his colleagues conducted a DES method-based study with a stratified random sample of 30 participants. The result of this study showed that some participants experienced inner speech by 75% of the beeps, some participants didn’t conduct inner speech at all, and the average score is 20%. However, the average score does not indicate that everyone can conduct inner speech 20% of the time. This result then raises a question: How do people with no inner speech think inside their heads?
Divergence and Convergence in How We Think
It is quite complex to comprehend the way each individual thinks. In general, there are two types of thinkers, visual and verbal. Visual thinkers generate thoughts with pictures in their head, while verbal thinkers conduct inner speech. Those who think visually usually work in the design field, dominating the right hemisphere of their brain by evoking patterns or images when creating a particular design without having the need to verbalize the thoughts. On the other side, verbal thinkers are left-brained and usually used to rehearse words before doing a presentation.
Given the fact that there are different types of thinking, it becomes clear that people with no inner speech conduct thoughts inside their heads visually. Interestingly, visual thinkers are not limited to those who work in the design field only, but also to some people who work in the music industry as musician Jae of DAY6 experienced.
“My thoughts are all tangled and flying in bubbles, they’re hazy. There are no specific words that are formed or full sentences to follow. I don’t even hear my own voice while reading, I just read,” said musician Jae of DAY6 in a podcast uploaded by Dive Studios in episode 7. He also added that he mumbles a lot while talking because he does not have inner speech to prescreen sentences in his head before professing it out loud.
Each individual has diverse personalities and we won’t be able to understand each of them unless we put our shoe in their state of mind. People that have inner speech may feel that talking to themselves in silence is a normal behavior. Similarly, others with no inner speech don’t feel weird at all of not hearing voices inside their head. Still, learning the complexity of human brains is difficult because it requires high level communication skills to perceive another’s personality and portray their emotional dynamics.
Most people do not realize the complexity in human brains until they really come and think about it in a state of full consciousness. Full consciousness means that people really dive in and get to know how their thoughts are processed internally. Further, instead of not having inner speech, some people might not be able to see pictures inside their head. This phenomenon is called apanthasia, the inability to construct mental images when the objects are absent at that moment, but this case will be another different story. It’ll even get more complex knowing that some people have neither inner speech nor visual thoughts. Thus, having inner speech or not is just one of all the odds of the complexity in human brains.
Editor: Philipus Susanto
Ilustrasi: Haikal Rahardian
Hurlburt, R.T. (2011). Not Everyone Conducts Inner Speech. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 22, 2020, from psychologytoday.com
Morin, A. (2012). Inner Speech. 10.1016/B978-0-12-375000-6.00206-8.
Hurlburt, R.T., Akhter, S.A. (2006). The Descriptive Experience Sampling method. Phenom Cogn Sci 5, 271–301. 10.1007/s11097-006-9024-0.
Alderson-Day, Ben & Fernyhough, Charles. (2015). Inner Speech: Development, Cognitive Functions, Phenomenology, and Neurobiology. Psychological Bulletin. 141. 10.1037/bul0000021.
Nishimura, K., Aoki, T., Inagawa, M., Tobinaga, Y., & Iwaki, S. (2016). Individual Differences in Mental Imagery Tasks: A Study of Visual Thinkers and Verbal Thinkers.