Talking Out Loud To Myself

I talk to myself out loud. Yes, full conversations, questions and answers, even debates -- I can do everything all by myself.

I don’t do it when people are around. I’m just not that confident in my own cognitive quirks. It doesn’t seem, well… normal, you know?

But between you and me, I do it all the time. I usually walk at the same time. For me, nothing works better than some walking and talking with myself to work out particularly thorny problems.

Now, if I was using Google to diagnose myself, it would be a coin toss whether I was crazy or a genius. It could go either way.  One of the sites I clicked to said it could be a symptom of psychosis. But another site pointed to a study at Bangor University (2012 - Kirkham, Breeze, Mari-Beffa) that indicates that talking to yourself out loud may indicate a higher level of intelligence. Apparently, Nikola Tesla talked to himself during lightning storms. Of course, he also had a severe aversion to women who wore pearl earrings. So the jury may still be out on that one.



I think pushing your inner voice through the language processing center of your brain and actually talking out loud does something to crystallize fleeting thoughts. One of the researchers of the Bangor study, Paloma Mari-Beffa, agrees with this hypothesis: “Our results demonstrated that, even if we talk to ourselves to gain control during challenging tasks, performance substantially improves when we do it out loud.”

Mari-Beffa continues, “Talking out loud, when the mind is not wandering, could actually be a sign of high cognitive functioning. Rather than being mentally ill, it can make you intellectually more competent. The stereotype of the mad scientist talking to themselves, lost in their own inner world, might reflect the reality of a genius who uses all the means at their disposal to increase their brain power.”

When I looked for any academic studies to support the value of talking out loud to yourself, I found one (Huang, Carr and Cao, 2001) that was obviously aimed at neuroscientists, something I definitely am not. But after plowing through it, I think it said the brain does work differently when you say things out loud.

Another one (Gruber, von Cramon 2001) even said that when we artificially suppress our strategy of verbalizing our thoughts, our brains seem to operate the same way that a monkey’s brain would, using different parts of the brain to complete different tasks (e.g., visual, spatial or auditory). But when allowed to talk to themselves, humans tend to use a verbalizing strategy to accomplish all kinds of tasks. This indicates that verbalization seems to be the preferred way humans work stuff out. It gives guide rails and a road map to our human brain.

But if we’ve learned anything about human brains, we’ve learned that they don’t all work the same way. Are some brains more likely to benefit from the owner talking to themselves out loud, for instance? Take introverts, for example. I am a self-confessed introvert. And I talk to myself. So I had to ask, are introverts more likely to have deep, meaningful conversations with themselves?

If you’re not an introvert, let me first tell you that introverts are generally terrible at small talk. But -- if I do say so myself -- we’re great at “big” talk. We like to go deep in our conversations, generally with just one other person. Walking and talking with someone is an introvert’s idea of a good time. So walking and talking with yourself should be the introvert’s holy grail.

While I couldn’t find any empirical evidence to support this correlation between self-talk and introversion, I did find a bucketful of sites about introverts noting that it’s pretty common for us to talk to ourselves. We are inclined to process information internally before we engage externally, so self-talk becomes an important tool in helping us to organize our thoughts.

Remember, external engagements tend to drain the battery of an introvert, so a little power management before the engagement to prevent running out of juice midway through a social occasion makes sense.

I know this is all a lot to think about. Maybe it would help to talk it out -- by yourself.

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