Why we talk to each other, according to research

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It’s hard to describe what an internal monologue sounds like, audible or otherwise. Now I get up to work. Why can’t I do work? Oh man, why did they do that? It’s time to sit down and cry.

People never quite know the ebbs and flows of this common commentary – most of the time the words that spring up themselves startle the speaker. They’re not just scattered, distracting reminders to oneself (don’t forget to get groceries!), but long conversations that spill out into the night, winding through time and memory. Future, past, present. It’s squash, the Quicksilver way: there’s no one but ourselves to counter the thought ball we hit. One can be on the street, in the office, and in the privacy of one’s own home, and a stream of consciousness can manifest verbally.

In theory, self-talk seems as absurd and cringe-worthy as it is pointless. There are several critics of this trend, who register their dissatisfaction quite expressly. You’re crazy if you keep babbling to yourself. But, there’s a rhyme and a reason why people talk to each other — and understanding that can drizzle cold water on that searing unease.

All this bearing in mind that self-talk can indeed be concerning if it is compulsively frequent and a manifestation of hallucination. Speaking out loud helps, as long as we are in control and aware of it.

Here’s what the science says. Talking to yourself has a positive impact on cognitive memory, it helps to remember things better. In 2011, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied this link: they asked 20 people to go shopping in a supermarket, giving the name of an object (such as an apple or a loaf of bread or an orange) and asked them to find it. The participants remained silent in the first round. But in the next, they repeated the name aloud, as if talking to themselves as they searched for the object. People were able to find apples and oranges with greater ease. “If you know bananas are yellow and have a particular shape, saying banana activates those visual properties in the brain to help you find them,” said Gary Lupyan, one of the psychologists who led the study. study. The words were a powerful recovery cue to help people materialize the end goal and even give it meaning, the researchers concluded.

“Think of it as a pointer to a block of information in your mind. Hearing the name exaggerates what might normally happen if you just thought of something. Language stimulates this process,” Lupyan told the BBC.


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If the theories are to be believed, Einstein was also guilty of self-talk: he used to repeat his sentences softly to himself, according to a blog. People like Einstein spawned the stereotype of the “mad scientist,” who is lost in his world, running around in shades of gray, talking to himself. You can also watch the trope of the rational detective, slowly stating clues out loud before the eureka moment.

Other research too broadly agrees with the premise of speaking out loud: it helps pay attention to the task at hand and even provides motivation to do so. Imagine that dreaded task that’s been on your to-do list since Monday; that one thing that makes you tap your fingers anxiously in a hard beat. Alright, now I have to. Now I will reply to this email. I type the subject. “Think you’re fine!” A comment can actually help people get to the end of the task.

To go further, there is literature that shows that speaking to oneself audibly is also a sign of higher cognitive functioning. In one such experiment, researchers Alexander Kirkham and Paloma Mari-Beffa from the University of Bangor showed how auditory feedback improves control over the task at hand – far more than just thinking quietly on their own. They gave 28 participants written instructions, asking them to both read them aloud and silently. When participants actually performed the task, those who read it aloud had higher concentration and performance.

“Much of this advantage seems to come from simply hearing each other, because auditory commands seem to be better controllers of behavior than written commands… Our ability to generate explicit self-instructions is actually one of the best tools we have for cognitive control, and it just works best when said out loud,” wrote Mari-Beffa from Bangor University. brain more efficiently, even when performing unrelated tasks.

Two other studies agree with this idea: In 2011, researchers found that when basketball players spoke out loud and gave each other instructions, it led to greater accuracy when shooting and passing the ball. In 2017, a study found that self-talk, in the second or third person, was linked to improved person performance; it eliminated individual task anxiety and made the person more confident. Even a 2014 study found that using the third person (one’s own name) instead of an “I” can build trust. “What we’re finding,” said psychologist Ethan Kross, “is that a subtle linguistic shift — going from ‘I’ to your own name — can have really powerful self-regulating effects.” Indeed, the second or third person helps people distance themselves from the person they are talking to – and we know that people are kinder to others than to themselves. It was a medium favored by the likes of Julius Caesar, apparently, and is also known as illeism.


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Plus, talking to yourself helps make sense of the world — a benefit that’s best seen by toddlers and children. If you think about how children learn, it’s mostly by talking through their actions. How did you learn to tie a lace when you were a child? Take two shoelaces, tie a knot, make a loop. These audible, step-by-step instructions people tell themselves can help remind them to focus on the task at hand. A 2008 study of 5-year-olds found they did better on motor skills tests when they talked aloud through tasks, The Swaddle previously reported. There is an added benefit to exerting more emotional and cognitive control over tasks.

In his book, inner voices, Charles Fernyhough notes the benefit of self-talk, especially, for children. “If you watch a small child play with his toys, you will probably see him talking to himself. She sometimes talks about irrelevant things, but often she says “I’m going to build a railroad” or “I’m going to build a house”, or “This house is going to look like my aunt’s house”, or whatever. There’s a comment that apparently helps her think about what she’s doing and plan what she’s going to do,” he told The Atlantic.

In adults, audible self-talk is especially beneficial in helping them organize their thoughts and provide much-needed clarity. “It helps you clarify your thoughts, focus on what’s important, and firm up any decisions you’re considering,” says psychologist Linda Sapadin, explaining how speaking out loud helps people validate important and difficult decisions. .

And Fernyhough also adds that adults may prefer saying things out loud rather than engaging in self-directed conversation in silence. “The words are out there, ringing in the air for a split second. They’re a little more tangible, you can have a memory trace of what you just said. So it stays a little easier in your head. .

Sometimes saying is to believe. And this is a particularly useful premise for improving emotional and mental health. It’s not exactly a far-fetched idea that talking to themselves out loud can help someone feel better and less stressed than usual – because it gives tangible life form to the worry within reach. hand, even if it is via language.

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