It doesn't go underground permanently. It's not a one-way street. I would say most people talk to themselves, but there's still a sort of social embarrassment about doing it. And then there's a sort of social and cultural pressure as well. So there are some good reasons for doing it silently. Beck: Of course, most of the situations we're doing it in now are not that extreme.
It's funny, I always find I talk to myself out loud most at the grocery store. Just something about the grocery store stresses me out, all the people looking at you while you're trying to buy your food. Fernyhough: Although this is solitary speech, it's speech for the self, it seems to be stimulated by the presence of other people.
Creating Believable Dialogue in Fiction — Jeannette de Beauvoir
Children do it more when there are other kids around. And I think that might apply to adults as well—if you're in a context where everybody else is muttering to themselves, [you might, too]. I do it in the supermarket because I'm trying to remember the last things on the list. Fernyhough: There's a neat study that shows that kind of self-talk actually helps you do exactly that—pick items from a supermarket array. Beck: You mention that part of Vygotsky's theory is that as we're learning social speech, we're also learning internal speech.
Walk me through: How does the development of spoken language correspond with the development of inner speech? Fernyhough: So Vygotsky thought that two things come together in early childhood. You have some basic intelligence, which any one-year-old baby is showing. They're able to do all sorts of things, initiate actions, work stuff out, remember stuff. It's quite phenomenal how quickly most kids acquire language. The idea is not that you need language for thinking but that when language comes along, it sure is useful.
It changes the way you think, it allows you to operate in different ways because you can use the words as tools. Somewhere around age 2, language comes together with intelligence and bang! Something really special is created. And the thing that is created might well be unique in the universe. They use sign to regulate their thinking just like we use spoken language. Some people are born completely deaf, some people are born with a bit of hearing and get exposed to a bit of language, some people go deaf in early childhood, and so on. So you tend to get a bit of a mix. Beck: You think of inner speech in terms of a dialogue.
If it's between the self and the self, how does that splitting of the self work out internally? Fernyhough: That can be part of it. The key thing is that the self is multiple, that we have different parts to the self.
It can be you as a listener but it can also be another person. I can have an inner dialogue with my mum, for example. It can be a dead person, it can be an imaginary person, it can be God. In the book I tried to use this as a way of rethinking the idea of spiritual meditation and of prayer. The idea of having a conversation with another being.
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Because we internalize social dialogues, we bring in that dialogic structure and it's right there at the heart of our thinking. Fernyhough: When we use descriptive experience sampling [in which people are asked to report on their own inner speech] , we assume that a lot of what people say when they are asked about their experience is kind of generalizations about what they think is in their own minds rather than what is actually in their own minds.
And that's why people can be surprised by DES. People can think their thoughts are a bit negative but they turn out to be quite joyful, or vice versa. And that is a really fascinating philosophical question, because it suggests we can be mistaken about our own experience. And if we can be wrong about what goes on in our heads, then that's pretty wild. Beck: So people might have fundamental assumptions about their personality or their thought patterns and then find out they're not true?
Fernyhough: Yeah, exactly, and it even could apply to certain aspects of mental health. Russ Hurlburt, [who created DES], has an example of somebody with OCD in one of his papers, where he talks about this character who complained of having constant intrusive obsessive thoughts, but when he did DES, he found there wasn't nearly so much of that.
The Running Conversation in Your Head
Fernyhough: Yes. So I think what is happening is we make a lot of self-generalizations about our experience, we have a kind of self-theoretical approach to our experience that doesn't always match up with what's actually there when you try and capture it moment by moment. Beck: So how does that apply to trying to understand what happens to people who hear voices or have auditory hallucinations? Fernyhough: The basic story is quite a simple one. Hearing voices is a frequently very distressing experience. It's usually associated with severe mental illness, with a lot of different psychiatric diagnoses.
A lot of regular people will have relatively fleeting or one-off experiences of hearing a voice at some point in their lives. It can be very very distressing. It can also be rather neutral and it can even be positive, uplifting, and guiding in certain cases. There's also a lot of problems with that idea. And also other factors must be involved, memory seems to play a huge part in this.
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