Speaking of Psychology: Inner monologues with Ethan Kross, PhD (2023)

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Kaitlin Luna: Stop what you're doing, quick, recall your childhood phone number. Done? Okay. Did you say the numbers inside your head, did the phone number appear as an image, something else? You may be wondering why I'm asking you this seemingly off the wall question. Well, it's because I'm trying to get you to analyze your inner voice. You may have heard about the internet debate recently on inner monologues. It all started from a tweet that went viral. That tweet said that some people have an internal narrative and some don't.

What ensued were thousands of comments, retweets and news stories on the topic. Turns out that people have a lot to say about their inner voices. Some people were shocked to learn that there are those who have a running commentary in their heads all the time, while others don't have a permanent living narrator. According to our guest for this episode, University of Michigan psychology professor Dr. Ethan Kross, it's not exactly that simple. He says every healthy person has an inner voice, but how it manifests can vary dramatically from person to person.

Welcome to Speaking of Psychology, a biweekly podcast from the American Psychological Association that explores the connections between psychological science and everyday life. I'm your host, Luna Luna. Dr. Kross is joining us via Skype from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Welcome, Dr. Kross.

Dr. Ethan Kross: Thanks for having me.

Luna: First, I want to establish what an inner monologue or inner voice is. How do you describe it?

Kross: I think of the inner voice as silent verbal processing, so the example you gave to begin the podcast was a really good one. If I asked you to silently repeat the phone number in your head, that would be you activating your inner voice, so to speak at a very basic level. You're using verbal reasoning skills to play with information, and then there are, of course, all sorts of ways that we can use internal silent language to help navigate our lives. We can and often do use that verbal reasoning to keep information in mind, like when we rehearse our phone number, or when we might silently rehearse what we're going to say, in a given context.

If I'm preparing for a presentation, I might repeat something over and over, how I'm going to open the talk. But we also use language, silent language, the inner voice, so to speak, to do lots of other things. To imagine how we might respond to different situations in our future. Some people report having conversations with themselves silently. Like you might see often popularizing movies of, "Oh my god, what am I going to do if this happens? Well, if this happens, I'll do that." So the inner voice can take on lots of different roles, depending on the different contexts we find ourselves in.

Luna: How can those inner voices vary from person to person. As you said, every healthy person has an inner voice, but just how it appears is different?

Kross: Yes, that's a great question. I think going back to the tweet, the different reactions that people have, what was so interesting to me about those with some people saying, "Oh, I never talk to myself, I don't have an inner voice," and other people saying, "Oh, I talk to myself all the time. I'm always engaged in some kind of inner monologue." I think part of the issue there is that people have different conceptions of what the inner voice actually is. In my mind, the inner voice covers all the terrain we just discussed, ranging from activities where you are silently rehearsing what you're trying to memorize or say, that's one manifestation of the inner voice.

Another manifestation at the other end of the spectrum might be something like internal rumination, where we're engaged. "Oh my god, what should I do? How is this going to happen? What if this happens? What if the Corona virus affects my family?" to use a current event. That's a different manifestation of the inner voice and I do think it is it is the case that some people engage in that inner rumination a lot more than other people. Some people report not ruminating at all about things. If you are equating the inner voice with a ruminative thought process, then yes, there's going to be huge variability in the degree to which people engage it.

But if you go to the other end of the spectrum and look at the basic functions that the inner voice serves. When it comes to memorizing information and keeping information active in your mind, then I think it is a universal that characterizes all 'normal healthy functioning individuals'.

Luna: What are your thoughts about how this discussion just exploded on the internet? Are you surprised by that or what are your thoughts?

Kross: I think it's fascinating. I think the inner voice is such an interesting topic because I think it is very salient to so many people, but it's an incredibly private experience. Many people spend a lot of time in their heads. By some estimates, we spend most of our waking hours thinking and verbally reflecting on our lives internally. It's something that many people are doing so frequently, but they're not necessarily talking about it with others. It's not as though I go meet some friends for coffee and go, "Hey, guess what I was just talking myself about?"

So it's this very, very common intimate experience we have yet we don't talk about it very much. When you look at the science, it's often coated with jargon, working memory, the phonological loop, which is the technical term that describes the component of working memory that is verbal, linguistic in nature, really complicated, jargon-filled scientific terms. I think once there was an opportunity to have a public conversation about this topic, many people were excited to participate and they were particularly excited to participate when somewhat counterintuitive was raised, the idea that some people don't have an internal monologue.

Luna: I think it just brings up that everyone wants to share their personal perspective and like, oh, I always think this way. I mean, for me, I have an internal narrator all the time so I know what that cam feels like but, um.

Kross: Yes, I had a conversation with someone recently who was asking me about some of this research and this person was saying, I work at home alone. This was a web designer, and he was saying, all I do is talk to myself all the time in my head. That's just my life. The notion that that reality might not characterize other people's experiences was, to use the technical term, a mind-blower for that person. I think that's what we saw happen on Twitter, surrounding this conversation.

Luna: How is this different from people who hear voices? I mean, though, hearing voices is often associated with serious mental illness like schizophrenia. Can you differentiate between what we mean by an internal monologue and hearing voices?

(Video) Inner Monologues with Ethan Kross, PhD

Kross: Yes, that's a great question. There are a couple of distinctions worth noting. Oftentimes, when we're talking about the inner voice, I'm talking about the awareness that the verbal processing is occurring. When I repeat a phone number, let's say, my child's phone number, I have the subjective experience of using language to repeat that number. I'm not just seeing it, I'm internally hearing those words but I know that the source of that 'inner voice' is me. Right? I don't think that the voice is coming from some other external entity like the government or aliens and so forth.

That's the first distinction worth noting that, typically, when we're talking about the inner voice, we usually know where it's coming from, and it's usually ourselves and has this abstract quality to it. Now, that's not to say that we're not capable of hearing other voices too, so many people, if I asked you to imagine your mother telling you to clean up your room right now, you could probably simulate that experience and actually hear your mother's voice in your head or some approximation of it. That would be you hearing your mom and so we can hear other voices.

Again, typically you know that the voice is coming from- you are the source of your mom's voice. It's not your mom, implanting herself in your head and controlling you. When we get into mental illness, this line between knowing the source of the voice whether it's coming from me, or the external world, that tends to get blurred. Oftentimes, in the case of schizophrenia and other kinds of auditory hallucinations, we are attributing this voice to another agent. Now, I should say there have been studies, which asked people, do you ever hear voices and believe they come from other sources?

For example, like God is the voice in your head, delivering a message from God and there are people who do not meet diagnostic criteria for mental illness, who do report using the voice of God and believing it's coming from somewhere else. So the line between mental illness and normality in this context, it's not cut and dried. There are other elements that go into a diagnosis. Does that help give you a sense of the trend?

Luna: Yes, it does. I think what I've often heard is people who have auditory hallucinations, it's as though the person was next to you talking to you, as opposed to inside your head. Is that correct or is it varied?

Kross: Yes. That captures part of the phenomenon. Many perfectly normal, healthy individuals experience those kinds of auditory hallucinations at some point in their life. When we're making diagnoses of mental illness, we're taking into account lots of information, not just the frequency of those kinds of events, but other diagnostic criteria too.

Luna: Okay, so people can rest easy if they have an inner monologue, they're not likely suffering from a serious mental illness.

Kross: Yes, in fact, the only thing, inner monologue, yes. We'd all be in big trouble if that were the case.

Luna: Yes, exactly. Are we born with an inner monologue? When does it develop?

Kross: That's a great question. There's not a ton of research that looks at this. What we do know is that what I've seen, the earliest study, I've seen looking at verbal working memory, which is when we are using language to rehearse information and keeping a fresh mind, that that capacity, we can see evidence for it at around 18 months of age, but that's not to say that it doesn't develop earlier. That's simply what we've documented thus far. Relatively early on in the lifespan, although that, of course, depends on who you're talking to, but that's the earliest I've seen evidence for this coming online.

Luna: Does it help children develop self-control? I think you and I spoke briefly about that, how A child might be told instructions by a parent and then they might repeat them out loud and that becomes their inner voice, maybe to help them regulate their behavior, put away your toys, wash your hands, that kind of thing.

Kross: This is a really interesting angle on all this work. Many psychologists believe that the inner voice is actually central to how we learn to control ourselves. One of the key ways that we learn self-control is through the interactions we have with our parents, where our parents or caretakers give us instructions. They tell us what to do and what not to do. "Put your toys away and don't pick your nose at the dinner table." I shouldn't pick your nose anywhere, but you get the point.

If you've ever spent some time around children, what you often see is this really fun and curious and magical event where kids go off on their own, and they start talking to themselves oftentimes out loud, to begin with. They're giving themselves instructions, like, "No, I shouldn't pick my nose at the dinner table or, or yes, I have to go clean my room." They're essentially repeating what their caretakers are saying, or telling them to do. They're repeating it to themselves. The idea is that this is the way in which self-control is developing, messages from our caretakers in our culture more generally, are getting injected into our own lives and we're rehearsing them as kids out loud.

What happens is that over time, we don't do that out loud, but that process then goes internal, it becomes a silent inner monologue, where we are directing ourselves, so to speak, privately. That then becomes a tool that some psychologists and scientists, myself included, think that we rely on throughout our lives as a very powerful tool, this ability to use language to control ourselves.

Luna: One thing and I read an interview you did with Today.com, and you spoke about how you don't necessarily need to hear to have an inner voice. I find that interesting because I, in a previous life, I worked at Gallaudet University, which is a deaf university. So I was surrounded by deaf people on campus all the time and have deaf friends and know sign language and all that. What you said is that you don't need to be able to hear to have an inner voice, that perhaps maybe a deaf person sees sign language in their head, sees words, that sort of thing. Can you elaborate on that?

Kross: There's a really interesting question, right, if this inner voice is central to, it's fundamental to how we live our lives, it's used in all these different capacities, what happens to people who have impoverished verbal capacities from linguistic capacities, hearing impaired populations are one. There has been a little bit of work on this that shows, as you just implied, that people who are hearing impaired also report of silently talking to themselves, so to speak. One of the ways in which they report doing so is simply using the same communication channel that they use to communicate with people in their worlds.

They're engaging and not in inner talkings so verbally but with inner signing, using seeing signs in their mind, as they are engaging in this kind of internal introspection. It's happening, but they're using a different modality to do it.

Luna: Have you done any research on bilingual people? Would a bilingual person have an inner monologue in two languages?

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Kross: I haven't done any work on that. It's really interesting. There is work showing that among bilinguals, the language that you use to reason about experiences can have, in some cases, quite interesting implications for how you think. If you think about an emotional event in your second language, the impact it has on you is blunted. It doesn't have the same emotional punch than if you think about it in your native language.

Your native language is the language where you learn swear words and your first learning, where your experience of emotion is encoded using your native language. The idea is that when you switch to the non-native language, those emotional tags and experiences are stripped away as well. There's a lot of work in that area. It's also I think, I speak different languages and it's easy for me to swap into another language deliberately if I want to silently speak Spanish and rehearse a number, I can.

I think that flexibility exists. The question of do people oscillate back and forth? With that, I'm not sure. I am aware of some anecdotal reports among people who have studied abroad, who tell me that they start dreaming in a foreign language. We do find our inner voice perking up during our dreams too or jeeps often, have verbal information you process verbally in our dreams, too. I think it is likely to occur, but I just don't know of any evidence that has really nailed it.

Luna: An interesting area that could be studied in the future for sure. Have you done any research where people who talk out loud to themselves?

Kross: You know, we have such a great question that often comes up. We haven't touched this yet. I think it's a really interesting topic. In some work, we find that if you talk to yourself, in particular, in the third person when you're trying to manage yourself, so if I've got a really big presentation, I'm nervous, try to work through my feelings, not in the first one, "Hey, what am I going to say? What is Kross going to say? Why is Kross nervous?"

Engaging in that shift from first to third can be helpful for getting people distance from their experience making, "Hey, it's not about you, it's about someone else," and relieving anxiety and improving performance as a result. Some people often ask, "Well, what if you did that out loud?" My intuition is that it would be likewise beneficial but, and this isn't important "But", you can't do it when other people are around you because there's a huge social stigma that exists about people talking to themselves out loud, that violates social convention quite powerfully. I think there are other ramifications that that might have for people.

The short answer to your question, which I just didn't give you is that no, we haven't looked at this out loud, but I think my guess is that there are instances, but we know there are instances where people are frustrated and almost to the point of not being able to contain their frustration, they blurt things out to themselves. There's a whole set of interesting questions that surround that behavior that warrant future study.

Luna: When does your inner monologue go from being helpful to being self-defeating?

Kross: We often use our inner monologue to solve problems. It can be a really useful tool for helping us think through, simulate different possibilities for what might happen and come to a realization about how we should respond or behave or act. So, superduper useful ability, the ability to simulate and plan and the inner voice is something that helps us do that in many contexts. Where I think the inner voice can and does get us into, not just trouble but big trouble, is when that planning simulation process runs off course. As it does when we tend to ruminate or worry excessively or perseverate on negative things in our lives.

There's a ton of data showing that when we are constantly rehearsing the negative things, "What if this happens, what should I do?" or, "I can't believe I said this and how am I going to feel and what did that-- what if this happens?" That engaging that cyclical, verbal, negative dynamic. What that does is that it elevates our stress levels and it keeps those stress levels elevated over time and that can have strikingly negative implications for many of the things that matter most to us. For example, our health, right, so there's a lot of data showing that when we're ruminating and perseverating excessively over negative things in our life, that activates our fight or flight response and keeps it activated chronically over time, not very good.

If we're spending all of our time, lost in verbal thoughts, so to speak, over the negative things in our lives, our ability to think and reason is limited. What happens if you're spending all your time occupying the limited resources you have for thinking abstractly and planning, focusing on this one negative thing or several negative things? That then basically tunes out other important areas of your life where you might want to use your mind, your problem-solving capacity and so it can affect our decision making.

Like imagine for example, have you ever had the experience of trying to read a book when you're ruminating about a problem? When that happens, many people report anecdotally not being able to focus because these other negative thoughts are intruding in. It can really distract us from being good listeners or doing the jobs that we have at work or at school.

Then finally it can interfere with our relationships because one of the things we know about people when they experience heightened levels of inner voice run amok, so to speak, they tend to want to verbalize and talk about it to other people to get social support and that's a great instinct but what often happens is because these experiences are chronic right there, the inner voice is running on overdrive, the inner critic maybe is taking over, then they keep talking about it over and over and over again. That can actually push those we love away and so it can be not very good for us when the inner voice runs awry.

Luna: You're a director of your university's emotion and self-control lab and in your lab, you've done research on rumination and you've said that self-distancing can help. Can you explain what self-distancing is and how you can do this when something upsetting happens?

Kross: Sure. Self-distancing is the ability to essentially focus on yourself from a more objective, psychologically removed perspective. To illustrate why it matters, I usually ask people to think of a time when a friend or loved one came to them with a problem that they were ruminating about or worried excessively about and the problem wasn't really relative to them, just their friend. In these situations, most people report being able to easily coach their friends through their problems, give them advice about what they should do, how they should act and so forth.

I would argue, and there's lots of data to support this, that the reason for that is because the problem is not happening to you, right, so you have psychological distance from that experience and as a result, you're capable of thinking about it more objectively. What we've learned about human beings is that we have evolved to possess different psychological hacks, if you will, for providing us with distance from our own problems. That's what we've studied in the lab. What are these different tools that people are possessed to get some mental space from the problems that they're experiencing so that they can think about them more similar to how they might think about another person's problems.

One important tool that we've studied along those lines is language, is the inner voice. So in a certain sense, there are ways of using the inner voice to combat the toxic inner voice when it runs awry and one of those tools is something we call distance self-talk, which involves using your own name or other non-first person pronouns where it's like you or he or she, to think about your life when you're experiencing problematic rumination or anxiety-provoking experiences. If I'm really worried about making a good impression on you during this podcast and instead of thinking, what am I going to say and why am I going to say that, I might think, well, what is Kross going to say and why is Kross going to say that?

What we find is that that subtle shift from I to using your own name promotes distance and helps people think about experiences in a more healthy and ultimately adaptive way.

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I'll just add one more point. The reason we think that this is so effective is because if you think about the context in which we use names, right, most of the time we use names when we think about or refer to other people, right. Like 99% of the time we use names while thinking about or referring to another person. The idea is that when you use a name to refer to yourself, it's almost like this little psychological jujitsu move where you're getting yourself to think about yourself like you are someone else. You're using language to change the way you're actually thinking about yourself. That's distance self-talk in a nutshell.

Luna: That's great. I've never even thought about that as a way to think of yourself in the third person as you're going through near challenging times. You can also again treat yourself as though you would treat a friend because you likely would treat a friend or family member, a loved one better than you might talk to yourself in a lot of cases. Are there other distancing strategies you can employ when needed?

Kross: Yes. There's a whole toolbox of distancing strategies that exist. Another one that is empirically validated and I personally find useful is to imagine how you're going to feel a week or a month or a year later, right. It's something called temporal distancing. It's like a mental time travel where oftentimes we get so consumed with what is happening in the moment. We forget that with time things change and actually oftentimes things get better. If you find yourself ruminating about something, you might think, well, how am I going to feel about this a year from now or 10 years from now? That's another distancing hack.

There's some work showing that writing expressively about your experiences, so doing something like journaling is also something that has been shown to be effective for helping people cope with negative experiences and one pathway through which it works, not the only one but one has to do with distance, right. When you're writing about your own experiences, you're becoming the target, right. Like you're thinking about yourself as this character in a play that is your life and so there's a distance in quality that writing about one's experiences can also help.

Those are just a couple of examples, there are quite a few more that exists that you can read about in various places. I'm happy to refer people to have sources if that'd be helpful.

Luna: We can touch on that a bit at the end. You also research social rejection and emotional pain. Why and how does something emotional cause physical pain?

Kross: Great question. Yes, we have done some work looking at-- there's this curious phenomenon where people who find themselves ostracized or excommunicated or just rejected from work or in love do this seemingly strange thing. They use this language of physical pain to talk about their experience. They say my feelings are hurt, I'm in pain. That has been a curious phenomenon for many of us in the field. Like why would a person use words that are normally specific to the experience of physical pain to describe this emotional experience?

One idea has to do with the fact that because our social relationships are so absolutely central to our ability to succeed and thrive in this world, right, human beings, we are a social species. We thrive on these social relationships that we have evolved in ways that we need really powerful cues that alert us to danger when those social ties are severed. One of the best systems that exist for warning us of potential danger is pain, right.? If we go to touch a stove and we sense heat, we instantly pull back our hand.

The idea is that within human beings we make use of the physical pain system that exists, this very primitive system for alerting us to danger and getting us to quickly respond as a result. We rely on that system when we experience potentially socially threatening experiences. Does that make sense?

Luna: Yes, it does. How can people better cope with rejection?

Kross: Well, many of the tools that exist for coping with negative experiences more generally like experiences that might cause you to feel anxiety or anger or sadness, also apply to coping with rejections. Some of the distancing tools that we've already talked about, I think would be useful for coping with rejection and there's some data to support that. There are also, of course, like leveraging our social relationships with other people. Finding people to talk about our problems who are skilled in helping us see the bigger picture, not getting stuck in the details.

Oftentimes you go to other people for help and they don't actually help you because in their attempts to be supportive, they end up just getting you to think through how awful you feel as a result. To make it concrete, let's say you're rejected, you, "Oh my God, I can't believe you were just rejected. You must feel awful. I'm so sorry. When did it happen? What happened?" In my attempt to connect with you, I am essentially just getting you to think over and over about to rehearse the negative features of your experience and that can be not so helpful long term.

There's some evidence that what makes like really good social support is when you go to someone else, they're capable of connecting with you and showing you that they care. They learn a little bit about what you're going through, but then they really shift to trying to help you put the experience in perspective. "Well, you know what, there are more fish in the sea." That's the cliche, or "Let's look at the big picture. You know what, two years from now things are going to look different. In a certain sense, other people can be tools that help give us more space, more perspective, more distance. That's another thing that people can do.

There are boatloads of other techniques and tools that exist for helping people manage rumination that natures is one that has been recently quite extensively studied. There are religious rituals that people engage in that can be- or even non-religious rituals that can be helpful. That's really a huge question, we would probably need a lot more time to get into all those techniques in-depth.

Luna: You've offered a lot of great tips in terms of how to handle rumination, rejection, those things that just happen. I think most people can say that those things have happened in their lives at some point. I want to turn now to some other work you do in your lab. You've done some research on social networking sites and well-being. In a paper you published, you ask that very question that's on the minds of many today. Does social media make us feel better or worse? What did you find?

Kross: What we find is that when you use social media in a particular way, it predicts a decline in how good people feel. In particular, when people passively use social media, meaning that they log into their social media sites, we've studied primarily Facebook and they browse what's happening in their social media universe. That tends to lead people to feel envy, feelings of envy, which in turn predicts declines and how good they feel. How we think all of this works is as follows. We know that people are motivated to present themselves flatteringly the eyes of others. We all do it all the time, not just on social media, but in the offline world as well.

I wake up, if I know I'm going to see other people, I shave, I call my hair, I put on a shirt that's not ripped and stained. I do that because I want to convey a particular impression. But there are limits to how that impression management process works in the offline world. Like I can comb my hair and shave, but the hair can get messed up and maybe nicked myself when I'm shaving and there's nothing I could really do about that. Well, when you transition to the social media universe, things change quite dramatically or ability to curate the way we present ourselves goes on hyper drive.

You can air brush out the blemishes, you can make sure that it's a perfect snapshot. It's like the one in the one photo out of a hundred you've taken that really captures things best and you can post that. Then the question is, well, what happens when you are logging in and not only seeing the this hyper curated presentation of other people's lives, like not just a single snapshot, but when you're scrolling through a series of snapshots.

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Everyone is looking great, everyone is having a great vacation, everyone is talking about good things. There's basically lots of 50 years of psychology gives you an answer to that question. What happens when you bathe yourself in a positive experiences of others can lead you to feel bad about your own life because you are aware of the normalcy of your own life, meaning you're not just having all positive experiences and so forth.

That's what we and others have found and the take home I think is that if one way to try to minimize this is to try to use these sites more actively to connect and share with other people. There's some evidence suggesting that is less harmful in terms of the emotional implications.

Luna: As we wrap up I just want to focus on one more study you did that I think will have implications for this year, which is an election year here in the US. From a study you coauthored in 2011 that examined how people fail to be reasonable over issues that have deeply personal implications like an election. In that study, you focused on the 2008 US presidential election. Can you explain more about your findings and what-- If anything has changed in the past nine years?

Kross: Yes. In that work what we want them to do is look at how distancing which we've talked about thus far, how has the ability to step outside yourself and look at the situation more objectively, how that might influence something like wisdom which we defined as like, so wisdom is the ability to manage social dilemmas effectively. Two important qualities of wisdom. What makes someone wise? It's recognizing the limits of one's own knowledge. It's understanding that look, as much as I may know about something, I can't possibly know it all. Intellectual humility is something that's often referred to.

Then also something called dialecticism. Fancy word to basically convey the idea that the world is constantly in flux and things are likely to change. What we wanted to do is see whether asking people to think about the election and what was going to happen if the person who you didn't endorse won the election. Granted, things currently are I think much more emotionally charged than they were back in 2008, but the question was like, does getting people to think about the upcoming consequences of election from a distance perspective lead them to be less extreme in their reactions?

Might it lead people to say, well, you know what, it may not pan out the way I want, but I get that this happens every four years and this candidate will come and maybe they'll go, or, I don't know, maybe they will surprise me. Getting a little bit more humility emerging in your forecast as well. That is in fact what we've found. The people who were capable of distancing when they thought about what was going to happen showed evidence of being more aware of the limits of their own knowledge and were more likely to indicate that the future was likely to change in ways that they couldn't predict.

Luna: Do you think that will be effective this election year and subsequent election years?

Kross: The ability to adopt that mindset?

Luna: To self-distance, yes.

Kross: Yes. Well, I think it's a great question to see what happens there. As I said like I think the stakes now are I think higher in many ways. My intuition is that this is a much more emotionally charged climate that we are living through. So I think one question is like, are people capable of distancing because it may be more challenging to do so the more immersed you are in the experience. I think people right now are very immersed, but I do think that if you are capable of getting some space you do realize you're more likely to realize that as challenging as things maybe, if they don't work out the way you want them to work out, we do get to do this again in four years.

Think about the ultimate distancing exercise here when it comes to a political climate. We've been around for a while as species on this planet. We've experienced changes in leaders and the borders of nations and so to speak and we've made it through, so we'll we will likely do it again. This same idea, the same perspective broad and distancing was I think recently applied very effectively when talking about the Coronavirus that we're dealing with. Most of the media is zooming us in on just how much deadlier this virus is than the seasonal flu and this is causing a lot of panic among people.

I think you can see evidence of this when you just look at the masks flying off the shelves at every drug store and Costco across the nation. Well, one public health official recently said this is not an existential threat. We have experienced pandemics like this before, epidemics, pandemics, use whatever term is appropriate right now and we've lived through it and we will live through this again. Again, that's a perspective broadening tool that they invoked that at least Intuit in terms of the reaction, the effect it had on me was quite powerful and I suspect it would be on others too based on what I know about the science behind it.

Luna: Earlier you mentioned you have resources for people to go for more information. Where should they go?

Kross: They could check out my labs, my website from our lab The University of Michigan emotion and self-control lab. There are lots of articles and news coverage on some of the things we talked about there. I also have a book coming out on this called "Chatter: the voice in our head, why it matters and how to harness it", coming out next year that will integrate a lot of the things we discussed that they could check out too.

Luna: Great. Well thank you so much for joining us Dr. Kross. This has been an a really awesome conversation. I think we'll have people talking. Whether it's inside their head or outside their head, to other people.

Kross: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. It was a lot of fun.

Luna: If you have any comments or ideas to share, send us an email tospeakingofpsychology@apa.org. That's speakingofpsychology, all one word, dot org. Also please consider giving us a rating in iTunes. You can previous episodes of Speaking of Psychology on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also go to our website,speakingofpsychology.org. I'm Kaitlin Luna with the American Psychological Association. Thanks for listening.


What is inner speech in psychology? ›

Inner speech can be defined as the subjective experience of language in the absence of overt and audible articulation.

What percentage of the population thinks with an internal monologue? ›

Inner monologue is a common occurrence, but some people have never experienced it. For those who are familiar with the experience, there's a big variation in the frequency with which it occurs. Psychology professor Russell Hurlburt reports that 30 to 50% of people have an inner voice.

Is it normal to narrate your thoughts in your head? ›

This is a completely natural phenomenon. Some people might experience it more than others. It's also possible not to experience internal monologue at all. While considered a natural process, some forms of inner speech could be cause for concern.

Why is donti an internal monologue? ›

The lack of an inner monologue has been linked to a condition called aphantasia — sometimes called "blindness of the mind's eye." People who experience aphantasia don't experience visualizations in their mind; they can't mentally picture their bedroom or their mother's face.

What are the 3 inner voices? ›

The three inner voices are: Voice of Judgement (VoJ) Voice of Cynicism (VoC) Voice of Fear (VoF)

What are the 3 stages of speech? ›

Three Stages of Speech Development
  • 1st stage- Social speech (or external speech) "In no way is this speech related to intellect or thinking."(Luria, 1992) In this stage a child uses speech to control the behavior ofothers. ...
  • 2nd stage- Egocentric Speech. ...
  • 3rd stage- Inner Speech.

Are people with inner monologue smarter? ›

Is inner monologue a sign of intelligence? The inner monologue is associated more with personality than intelligence. If someone has more developed verbal skills, they are more likely to have a wordier inner voice than someone with less language development.

Do people with inner monologue have more anxiety? ›

But Reisinger suggests that having a predominance of negative self-talk can be unhealthy. “Negative or critical self-talk is associated with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, burnout and even suicidal thinking,” he says.

Is internal monologue an actual voice? ›

Intrapersonal communication, also referred to as internal monologue, autocommunication, self-talk, inner speech, or internal discourse, is a person's inner voice which provides a running monologue of thoughts while they are conscious. It is usually tied to a person's sense of self.

What is the inner voice in your head called? ›

What is an internal monologue? Whether you refer to your internal voice as your inner dialogue, self-talk, internal speech, or stream of consciousness, an internal monologue is the voice inside your head that you can “hear” when you think.

What is an internal monologue example? ›

Inner monologue in a story may be used to reveal a character's self-speak and preoccupations. For example, in a story where a character's primary or secondary struggle is accepting their body, there may be a scene where they're looking in a mirror: He turned and stood at an angle, sucking in his belly.

What is it called when you can hear your thoughts? ›

Thought broadcasting occurs in different ways for different people. For some people, they might hear their thoughts being spoken aloud, when they are not actually saying them out loud. Others might feel like their thoughts are silently escaping them and as a result, might be heard by the people around them.

What percentage of people have no inner monologue? ›

Hurlburt would argue that only about 25 percent of people have an inner monologue. We're just not great at articulating our own mental landscape, he says. Instead, Hurlburt thinks many people visualize their thoughts or experience what he calls "sensory awareness."

Are there people with no inner monologue? ›

Earlier this year, a lot of people were surprised to discover that some people don't have an internal monologue, while those people who don't were surprised to learn other people do. Having only ever lived in your own head, it's pretty weird to discover that other people think differently than you do.

What is the negative voice in my head called? ›

The Critical Inner Voice is the part of us that is turned against ourselves. It is the defended, negative side of our personality that is opposed to our ongoing development. The voice consists of the negative thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that oppose our best interests and diminish our self-esteem.

How can I identify my inner voice? ›

10 practices to get in touch with your inner voice.
  1. Create space in your life and schedule. ...
  2. Practice deep listening. ...
  3. Don't neglect self-care. ...
  4. Try journaling in the morning. ...
  5. Develop boundaries. ...
  6. Learn more about intuition. ...
  7. Get curious about fleeting moments of insight. ...
  8. Mind your physical and mental health.
18 Jan 2021

How do you unlock your inner voice? ›

7 Ways to Pump up the Volume on Your Intuition so You Can Listen to Your Inner Voice
  1. Create space for your inner voice to come through. ...
  2. Pay attention to your emotions. ...
  3. Look for your inner voice patterns. ...
  4. Set the intention to tune into your inner voice. ...
  5. Don't let your mind take over. ...
  6. Take a moment to pause and breathe into it.
26 May 2019

How can I improve my inner dialogue? ›

5 Ways to Turn Your Negative Self-Talk Into a More Productive Inner Dialogue
  1. Recognize Your Negative Thoughts. ...
  2. Look for Evidence That Your Thought Is True. ...
  3. Look for the Evidence Your Thought Isn't True. ...
  4. Reframe Your Thought Into Something More Realistic. ...
  5. Ask Yourself How Bad Would It Be If Your Thought Were True.
3 Apr 2018

At what age is speech fully developed? ›

3 to 4 years

Uses most speech sounds, but may distort some of the more difficult sounds, such as l, r, s, sh, ch, y, v, z, th. These sounds may not be fully mastered until age 7 or 8.

What is silent inner speech? ›

Inner speech (IS), or the act of silently talking to yourself, occurs in humans regardless of their cultural and linguistic background, suggesting its key role in human cognition.

What are the three main points of a speech? ›

Speeches are organized into three main parts: introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Introduction. The introduction of the speech establishes the first, crucial contact between the speaker and the audience. ...
  • Body. In the body, the fewer the main points the better. ...
  • Conclusion.

Do people with ADHD have a constant inner monologue? ›

When a person has ADHD, it is common for her to engage in negative “self-talk,” a constant stream of thinking that is self-critical. This can lead to or aggravate depression, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness.

Is having a narrator in your head rare? ›

Psychology professor Russell Hurlburt estimates 30 to 50 percent of people have an inner monologue narrating their thoughts throughout the day. But if you don't have one, Hurlburt, who teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says not to worry.

Do you hear your own voice in your head? ›

Chances are, you are reading this first sentence and hearing your own voice talking in your head. According to a new study, internal speech makes use of a system that is mostly employed for processing external speech, which is why we can “hear” our inner voice.

Is it normal to talk to yourself in your head? ›

The practice of talking to yourself goes by many names. Some call it self-talk. Others refer to it as inner dialogue, inner monologue or inner speech. “There are so many terms for it because it really is just that normal,” notes Dr.

How do I stop conversation in my head? ›

  1. Get ready to “go there” This sounds like a way to do exactly the opposite of getting out of your head, but it's not. ...
  2. Be a storyteller, not an ruminator. ...
  3. Talk to a stranger. ...
  4. Deactivate the “Me Centers” of your brain by meditating. ...
  5. Focus on someone else. ...
  6. Learn what mindfulness really is.
19 Aug 2014

Is inner monologue healthy? ›

Maintaining a healthy inner voice can help with your growth and mental health, experts say.

Does everybody have a voice inside their head? ›

"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.

Why do we have a little voice in your head? ›

The study was conducted by Mark Scott, a university researcher in British Columbia, and suggests that during speech, the brain generates an internal copy of the sound of our voice in parallel to the external sound we hear.

How do we talk in our heads? ›

Talking in our heads is referred to by psychologists as 'inner speech'. It involves some similar processes to 'overt' speech – it recruits brain regions involved in language, such as the Broca's and Wernicke's areas, and is even accompanied by minute muscle movements in the larynx.

Why do I have conversations with others in my head? ›

Repeating entire conversations in your head is a type of rumination. It's how your mind attempts to self-soothe. The more you replay the details of a conversation, the more you may feel you can interpret what happened. You may also find that this helps you plan for a future outcome.

Can you control your inner voice? ›

The great thing about your little inner voice is that you can learn to control it. Some people seem to control it more easily than others, with less practice, but with some practice we can all learn how to use that inner voice to our advantage, in life in general, as well as in performance arenas.

How do I choose my inner monologue? ›

How To Take Control Of Your Internal Monologue
  1. Catch The Inner Voice Monsters. ...
  2. Make Friends With The Inner Voice Monsters. ...
  3. Know, Accept, Forgive And Love Yourself Unconditionally With Inner Speech. ...
  4. Use Affirmations Or Mantras. ...
  5. Craft Your Environment To Support Positive Inner Voice.

What is a good example of monologue? ›

A monologue involves one character speaking to another. A better example of a monologue is Polonius' speech to his son, Laertes, before Laertes goes to France. Here, he gives advice for how Laertes should conduct himself overseas. "Yet here, Laertes!

What is the difference between internal dialogue and monologue? ›

While dialogue means real exchange of ideas between two or more points of view (I-positions), monologue refers to one-sided communications (whether to oneself or to another person) in which an answer is not expected. Researchers have recently engaged in efforts to measure individual differences in inner dialogues.

What are the voices I hear in my head? ›

Hallucination is the perception or sensation of voices that can be heard by a person when they are awake and gives the feeling of being real. These are nothing but illusions created by the brain. People with auditory hallucination tend to hear sounds they are familiar with and sometimes also hear unusual noises.

How many voices are in your head? ›

Some schools of modern psychology use the term sub-personality to describe these different voices. Based on Jungian work they say the average person has about 12 sub-personalities.

Can your body hear your thoughts? ›

Yup, that's right, your body can't outrun the thoughts that flow through your mind; every single one of your cells literally vibrates with the energy that your thoughts create.

Are inner monologues genetic? ›

It's determined by a number of factors, such as environment, genetics, upbringing, what kind of experiences you're exposed to as a child, injuries and trauma. As to whether it's better to have a running monologue or silence up there — it all depends on what that little voice is saying.

Do introverts have inner monologue? ›

You may even wake up in the middle of the night, and there it is, asking about anything from the latest political situation, how to make your favorite dessert from scratch or past haunts, like I can't believe you said that awful thing 15 years ago! For an introvert, the inner monologue is constant.

Do schizophrenics have an inner monologue? ›

When it comes to schizophrenia, one of the most common questions is where do these inner voices come from? It turns out that people with schizophrenia are actually hearing their own voices in their heads. This is due to a phenomenon called subvocal speech, which most of us experience in a slightly different way.

How much inner monologue is normal? ›

According to Hulburt, not many people have an inner monologue 100 per cent of the time, but most do sometimes. He estimates that inner monologue is a frequent thing for 30 to 50 per cent of people.

What do schizophrenic voices say? ›

Patients who suffer from schizophrenia often have auditory hallucinations. They hear voices that are not there. Many times these hallucinations say things like “You are a terrible person, you are lazy, you are a waste of time” and other derogatory or critical remarks.

What does it mean when you hear someone call your name while sleeping? ›

Voices as you fall asleep or wake up – these are to do with your brain being partly in a dreaming state. The voice might call your name or say something brief. You might also see strange things or misinterpret things you can see. These experiences usually stop as soon as you are fully awake.

What is inner speech and why is it important? ›

Inner speech (IS), or the act of silently talking to yourself, occurs in humans regardless of their cultural and linguistic background, suggesting its key role in human cognition. The absence of overt articulation leads to methodological challenges to studying IS and its effects on cognitive processing.

What type of thought is inner speech? ›

Inner voice, also known as internal dialogue or inner monologue, is a language-based internal chatter. It is a result of brain mechanisms that allow you to “hear" yourself talk in your head.

What is the example of inner dialogue? ›

Direct internal dialogue refers to a character thinking the exact thoughts as written, often in the first person. (The first person singular is I, the first person plural is we.) Example: “I lied,” Charles thought, “but maybe she will forgive me.”

What is the role of inner speech in conscious thought? ›

Inner speech plays a central role in human consciousness at the interplay of language and thought (Morin, 2005) and is beneficial to many cognitive operations. It interacts with working memory to encode new material (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974).

What are the 3 basic purposes of a speech? ›

There are three general purposes that all speeches fall into: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain.

Is it good to have an inner monologue? ›

An inner voice can help people understand the world and engage in it. But, sometimes, that inner monologue turns negative or becomes fixated on a thought. This obsession can be a sign of something else. “Some of that ruminating that people can do is more of an anxiety process,” Gallagher said.

What is Vygotsky's thoughts about inner speech? ›

Vygotsky on Inner Speech

"Inner speech is not the interior aspect of external speech—it is a function in itself. It still remains speech, i.e., thought connected with words. But while in external speech thought is embodied in words, in inner speech words die as they bring forth thought.

What is the voice in your head called? ›

What is an internal monologue? Whether you refer to your internal voice as your inner dialogue, self-talk, internal speech, or stream of consciousness, an internal monologue is the voice inside your head that you can “hear” when you think.

Do all people have inner monologue? ›

For example, Hurlburt estimates that between 30% and 50% of people frequently experience an inner monologue.6 His research using his Descriptive Experience Sampling method has indicated that most people don't experience their inner monologue all the time, and many may go through large parts of their days without ...

How do you master inner dialogue? ›

6 Tips to Master Your Internal Dialogue
  1. Spend Time in Silence. Meditation is one of the first and most fundamental steps in mastering our internal dialogue. ...
  2. Cultivate Gratitude. ...
  3. Actively Avoid Negativity. ...
  4. Harness the Power of Affirmations. ...
  5. Practice Impeccable Speech and Behavior. ...
  6. Remember Your True Nature.
31 Mar 2016

How do you do an inner monologue? ›

3 Ways to Use Inner Monologue in Writing
  1. Give voice to a character's thoughts. ...
  2. Describe other characters or events from the protagonist's point of view. ...
  3. Demonstrate your main character's internal conflicts.
3 Sept 2021

What part of the brain is responsible for inner monologue? ›

Scientists also know that Broca's area is involved in talking to yourself in your head. That is, it is important in producing inner speech. Another area that seems to be active when someone hears a voice is at the top and back of the temporal lobe (on the side of the brain).

What are 3 components of the conscious mind? ›

Sigmund Freud divided human consciousness into three levels of awareness: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. Each of these levels corresponds and overlaps with his ideas of the id, ego, and superego.

What are the 4 functions of the conscious mind? ›

According to C.G. Jung consciousness is comprised of four aspects -thinking, feeling, sensing and intuiting. It is almost impossible to separate one aspect from another for they are inextricably joined in our body-mind.


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