A surprising difference in the human experience has people in total disbelief: We don’t all hear inner speech. Many people instead see words constantly and unavoidably as they think. Still others, according to one researcher, have neither of these experiences, but may only feel feelings or body experiences. People who do not hear their own thoughts may need to start speaking to work out what they are thinking.
We’ve worked with people who seem to always need to speak out loud to think. They start taking to hear what they are thinking and we’ve seen others who do not function this way get frustrated that the person did not “think it out” before speaking. Now it makes sense that perhaps there is no “think it out” with the inner voice for some people, that’s not even a thing for them. Or are we misunderstanding this?
… some people’s thoughts are like sentences they “hear”, and some people just have abstract non-verbal thoughts, and have to consciously verbalize them (Source)
If you hear words in your head as you are thinking, you may feel certain that this must be a common shared human experience, but it is not according to Russell T Hurlburt writing in Psychology Today in 2011. He studies what he calls people’s “pristine inner experience” and he pointed out that even experts are clueless about this difference among people. Most of us live our lives convinced that our own inner experience is the same as everyone else’s.
… Bernard Baars, one of the leading researchers in consciousness science, says: “Human beings talk to themselves every moment of the waking day. Most readers of this sentence are doing it now. It becomes a little clearer with difficult-to-say words, like ‘infundibulum’ or ‘methylparaben’. In fact, we talk to ourselves during dreams, and there is even evidence for inner speech during deep sleep, the most unconscious state we normally encounter. Overt speech takes up perhaps a tenth of the waking day, but inner speech goes on all the time. …
Inner speech is what’s normal, according to Baars. Hurlburt next points out that noted linguist John McWhorter had a very different inner experience, one he too believed to be the normal human experience:
When we utter a word, we cannot help but mentally see an image of its written version. In our heads, what we have said is that particular sequence of written symbols. When we say “dog,” a little picture of that word flashes through our minds, Sesame Street-style. Imagine saying “dog” and only thinking of a canine, but not thinking of the written word. If you’re reading this book, it follows that you couldn’t pull this off even at gunpoint.
Chris Heavey and Russell T Hurlburt Ph.D. conducted a study with 30 university students and determined that “inner speech occurred in about a quarter of all samples, inner seeing occurred in about a quarter of all samples, and feelings occurred in about a quarter of all samples.”
On a forum post about the topic, one person said, “I think in words, but more like linear text, nothing auditory.”
Wow. Another non auditory thinker wrote “I don’t hear my voice or any voice, but I don’t know if I would say it’s quiet. When I’m in deep thought, it’s so “loud” I don’t hear any physical sounds.”
In the 2011 Psychology Today article Hurlburt states that for the different types of “pristine inner experience” there is a five-way tie for first place, with inner speech being only one type of experience. If true, this would mean 80% of people do not hear and inner voice. Can this be?
Mary Grace Garis points out that those with inner speech probably do know the experience of those without it, they just forget that this happens:
Whether you have a mental narrator or not, none of us really think in words when we’re completely engaged, skiing fast down a mountain, or scaling a cliff. Likewise, our thoughts lose words when we’re fully listening to music, the incessant drilling of construction at work (just me?), or someone else’s words. (Source)
Is this true or is Garis making an assumption based on her own experience?
How many of our basic assumptions about other people’s experiences are totally wrong?
One thing is certain, if you stay tuned, life will be dishing up many more surprises.