So you’re telling me there are people that don’t hear their own thoughts? A recent tweet about the weird and wonderful workings of human thinking and interaction has gone viral. It’s true, some people do not verbalise their thoughts. It’s a complete mindfuck and everyone is losing their minds.
I don’t know about you, but I’d always just assumed that even though people think different (and mostly wrong – do better, everybody) thoughts from myself, everyone sort of thinks in roughly the same way that I do.
Well, it turns out that is not the case at all, and I’m far from alone in my mistake. A tweet went viral last week, and it’s sparked a lot of conversation about whether or not people have internal monologues.
Fun fact: some people have an internal narrative and some don't
As in, some people's thoughts are like sentences they "hear", and some people just have abstract non-verbal thoughts, and have to consciously verbalize them
And most people aren't aware of the other type of person
— Kyle🌱 (@KylePlantEmoji) January 27, 2020
For me, I’d always assumed that everybody has an internal monologue, and that monologue is voiced by Patrick Stewart. It’s odd to learn that a lot of people don’t have this at all, or it’s portrayed by someone other than Captain Picard.
Most people do genuinely seem surprised to learn about people thinking in the opposite way to them.
I'm sitting here trying to imagine what hearing your own voice in your head constantly narrating your every waking moment feels like and I'm so fucking glad my mind doesn't do this. https://t.co/uh4xHXBFe8
— JeanNA Toss A Coin To Your Skinner (@JeannaLStars) February 2, 2020
So not everyone has a voice inside their head that never, ever shuts up? My internal narrative and I find this almost impossible to comprehend. https://t.co/pRk4VaQGM1
— Kathryn Foxfield (@iloveweirdbooks) January 28, 2020
This thread is fascinating and blowing my mind.
I can think in fully formed sentences if I need to, but the idea many of you have constant, never-ending, Virginia Woolf-esque trains of thought—properly expressed in language—is incredible. https://t.co/D1mxNYladc
— Benjamin Law 羅旭能 (@mrbenjaminlaw) January 31, 2020
wait is this real? how do u think if not in sentences in ur head??? https://t.co/tVptwdftjj
— Riley J. Dennis (@RileyJayDennis) January 27, 2020
This is so wild to me I can't imagine thinking in actual sentences and hearing an internal monologue. People really think in sentences???? https://t.co/McreMtBK5a
— WitchyTwitchy Ⓥ (@witchytwitchytv) January 27, 2020
I have polyphonic internal narration. Everything I do in a day is processed through *several* different internal voices (all me) talking to one another in a conversation. If disgraces, sometimes I accidentally speak aloud the ongoing dialogue.
I THOUGHT EVERYONE WAS LIKE THIS.
— Van Badham (@vanbadham) January 31, 2020
Ask people around you and you’ll likely find someone who doesn’t think the way you do.
A colleague (Tom Hale) told me he doesn’t hear an internal monologue, and responded with annoyance when I suggested that his lack of internal monologue made him like a non-playable character in a video game, or a Buddhist monk that’s achieved enlightenment.
Wait so some people don't have to suffer through the voice in their head going on a constant monologue?? Is that what it means to achieve inner peace??
— 𝐙 (@howd9rk) January 27, 2020
“Do you walk around saying in your head ‘OK, up the stairs, then open the door, then I shall open the toilet seat’,” he asked me, in a confrontational manner. “I just think in abstract terms, I guess? If I want a coffee, I won’t say in my head (like a maniac) ‘I am a bit tired and thirsty, I shall make myself a coffee’. I just think about it abstractly, maybe imagine walking over to the kettle, etc.”
Something experienced by a lot of people online.
Same. For me it’s easier to write than speak. And i often don’t really know what I’m thinking until i write it.
— Laurie Feinswog (@ljfxiki) January 27, 2020
For me, in reality, it’s a bit of a mix. For mundane tasks, I don’t think [Patrick Stewart voice] “I am hungry now, some porridge I shall consume!”. This is all done in abstract, maybe an image of porridge accompanied by a feeling of hunger. But more complex stuff, like thoughts about what I want to do over the next year or so, will be done through an inner monologue, sometimes with a cockney accent just to keep things fresh.
For the large part, I will have full conversations inside my head, sometimes like an argument where I’ll dismiss something my inner monologue has said a second ago. It’s basically like what happens on British sitcom Peep Show.
A (non-scientific) poll beneath the viral post on inner monologues showed that the majority of people experience their thoughts as words (currently around 58 percent), with 14 percent experiencing thoughts as concepts, and 19 percent experiencing both.
— Nopety nope (@LJDEM) January 27, 2020
In more scientific studies, it seems people experience more of a mix than the self-selected responders to a viral post that implied it was either/or.
A small study in 2011 tried to get a better picture of how people think. They gave beepers (Patrick Stewart impersonating an observational comedian voice: Remember beepers? What’s the deal with beepers?) to a random sample of students. When the beeper went off, they had to note down what was going on inside their heads moments before it went off. This went on for several weeks, to get them used to it and then to get an accurate picture of what was happening inside their minds.
“Subjects experienced themselves as inwardly talking to themselves in 26 percent of all samples,” the team wrote in Psychology Today. “But there were large individual differences: some subjects never experienced inner speech; other subjects experienced inner speech in as many as 75 percent of their samples. The median percentage across subjects was 20 percent.
“Some people talk to themselves a lot, some never, some occasionally.”
In case you’re wondering, deaf people have reported having an internal monologue too.
“I have a ‘voice’ in my head, but it is not sound-based,” one person who was born deaf wrote. “I am a visual being, so in my head, I either see ASL signs, or pictures, or sometimes printed words.”
There are also people out there who can’t picture things in their heads, known as aphantasia.
also have antaphantasia, i thought it was a metaphor for the longest time as well. wasn't until i read a book when i was younger where they were explaining "mental images" when i was like oh this is REAL?
— charlie (@charleful) January 27, 2020