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Inner Speech and Consciousness – Morin (2009)
The characteristics of inner speech
The most important characteristic of inner speech is that it is predicative – syntactically crushed, condensed, and abbreviated. Since the context of speech is always implicit to the talking agent, the subject of a thought does not need to be explicitly stated. This predicative quality of inner speech is responsible for individuals experiencing it not as a sequence of fully formed utterances, but instead as a fragmentary series of verbal images. This explains why the rate of internal speech is much more rapid than that of overt speech. There is also a prevalence of sense over meaning in inner speech, which refers to the way that the personal, private significance of words takes precedence over their conventional meanings. (Pg. 393)
Tasks that require the elaboration of complex behavioral sequences and the simultaneous appreciation of multiple behavioral options are usually better performed with the aid of self-talk. Four effective categories of problem-solving self-verbalizations have been identified: (1) a precise definition of the problem (‘‘Ok. What’s the problem? What am I supposed to do?’’); (2) an effective approach to the problem (‘‘I must think of ways to solve this problem’’); (3) a sustained focus on the problem (‘‘No. That’s not important, I must not focus on this. I must work on that’’); and (4) a progress evaluation that includes praise or strategy readjustment (‘‘Good! I did it!’’/‘‘No. That’s not it. That’s OK. I must try again and take my time’’). (Pg. 394)
Inner speech is intimately associated with memory functions, especially working memory. Working memory is a system that allows us to maintain a limited amount of information (1–10 items, e.g., a phone number) in an active state for a short period of time (up to 60 s) and to manipulate that information. It is considered to be necessary for higher cognitive processes such as reasoning, decision making, problem solving, and language understanding. (Pg. 396)
Inner speech represents a phenomenon not only central to consciousness but to psychology in general. The multifunctional dimension of selfdirected speech suggests that it plays a fundamental role in initiating, shaping, guiding, and controlling human thought and behavior. (Pg. 400-401)
The development of inner speech
In essence, Vygotsky suggested that inner speech has its origins in social speech and that it serves an important self-regulatory function – a notion that has received much empirical support. For instance, the internalization process entails that children will first talk to themselves aloud (private speech) and that this self-guiding talk will gradually go underground as inner speech. (Pg. 390-391)
[T]he frequency of children’s private speech follows an inverted-U relation with age, peaking at 3–4 years of age, decreasing at 6–7 years of age, and virtually disappearing at age 10. The reduction in private speech is accompanied by corresponding increases in the frequency of partially internalized manifestations of inner speech, such as whispers and inaudible muttering. Private speech of bright children gets internalized into inner speech earlier, with girls usually showing a faster private speech development than boys. (Pg. 392)
Dysfunctional inner speech
All aspects of normal language functions (e.g., reading, writing, speaking, and calculating) require intact inner speech, and indeed, loss of inner speech following brain damage invariably leads to aphasia, agraphia, alexia, acalculia, and impaired verbal short-term memory. Recent experiments show that speakers monitor their own inner speech in order to detect and repair phonological, lexical, or grammatical errors before they are spoken. (Pg. 395)
Inner speech can be compared to a double-edged sword: on one hand it is associated with very constructive consequences such as self-regulation, and on the other hand distorted self-talk may lead to – or at least maintain – psychological disorders. Conditions such as test anxiety, bulimia, anorexia, lack of assertiveness, insomnia, social anxiety, agoraphobia, compulsive gambling, male sexual dysfunctions, low self-esteem, and depression have been shown to involve frequent repetitive negative and interfering cognitions. More benign transitory negative states such as worry, guilt, and shame are most likely mediated by inner speech. (Pg. 396-397)
This paper had a lot more information in it! Click here to read the full paper.
Want to learn even more?
Try this extensive review of inner speech research by Alderson-Day and Fernyhough (2015).