Anendophasia: How Not Having An Inner Monologue Could Affect Verbal Memory – IFLScience

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Not everyone has an inner monologue – it turns out that between 5 and 10 percent of the population don’t experience near-constant internal dialogue with themselves. According to new research, this group may find certain problem-solving tasks more difficult, particularly those involving verbal memory.

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Lack of an inner voice, or anendophasia as it’s been coined in the recent study, is still a bit of a mystery. We have ideas of what it’s like to live with, but much less of a clue as to what the implications of it may be. In fact, this research is, to the team’s best knowledge, “the first to conduct a systematic investigation of whether differences in inner speech have behavioral consequences”.

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And it just so happens that they do. The new findings suggest that having no inner voice may negatively impact a person’s verbal working memory and ability to judge rhymes – although it doesn’t seem to affect task-switching or perceptual discrimination capabilities.

In a series of experiments, the researchers tested the impact of having or not having an inner monologue on these four things. The tests involved 46 people who reported low levels of inner speech and 47 people who reported high levels.

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The first experiment required them to remember words that were spelled similarly or sound alike, such as “bought”, “caught”, “taut”, and “wart”. If you have inner speech, you might repeat the words inside your head to help remember them, but if you don’t, it might be more difficult, the authors theorized.

“[T]his hypothesis turned out to be true: The participants without an inner voice were significantly worse at remembering the words,” study co-author, linguist Dr Johanne Nedergård from the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.

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The same was true in the second experiment, which asked participants to determine whether a pair of pictures contained words that rhyme (e.g. sock/clock). Those with less inner speech performed worse when identifying the rhymes. “Here, too, it is crucial to be able to repeat the words in order to compare their sounds and thus determine whether they rhyme,” Nedergård added.

In the other two experiments, which focused on switching quickly between different tasks and distinguishing between similar figures, people’s success seemed to be unrelated to differences in inner speech.

“Taken together, our experiments suggest that there are real behavioral consequences of experiencing less or more inner speech,” the team concludes, adding that “these differences may often be masked because people with anendophasia use alternate strategies to achieve similar overall performance.”

For example, some reported tapping with their index finger during one type of task and with their middle finger during another, Nedergård explained. 

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As for how significant these observed impacts are in practice, we’re not yet sure. “The short answer is that we just don’t know because we have only just begun to study it,” said Nedergård, though she suspects it may be important for how people respond to different types of therapy.

Although the study was small, it still provides much-needed insight into anendophasia and will hopefully act as a springboard for future research to help answer some of the many remaining questions around it.

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

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