Talking To Yourself Is Healthy

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Some people jokingly say they talk to themselves because they are the only ones who will listen. Yet it’s no joke that talking to yourself is healthy, according to a new study, and it’s good for adults as well as children.

Listen up, I’m talking to myself

Nowadays it’s not uncommon to see people on the street or other public places who appear to be talking to themselves when in reality they are engaged in a conversation on a cell phone via a hands-free earpiece. It’s also not uncommon to see children talking to themselves as they try to perform a task, such as assembling pieces of a jigsaw puzzle or tying their shoes.

Then there are people—and this includes most people—who talk to themselves at least several times a week, and frequently more often. If you are among this large population of people, do not despair: these acts of self-directed speech (also referred to as inner speech) are healthy and helpful.

To demonstrate this concept, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Pennsylvania conducted several experiments to determine whether talking to yourself is helpful when searching for specific objects. In one experiment, for example, volunteers were shown images of different objects on a computer screen and asked to find a specific one among an array of distractors.

In other experiments, they were provided a label telling them what they should find or they were asked to search while saying the word to themselves. A follow-up experiment involved asking the volunteers to locate a particular object among many images of common supermarket items.

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In the first group of experiments, the researchers discovered that the volunteers found objects more quickly when they said the word to themselves. The same was true in the follow-up experiment when the volunteers were looking for very familiar items. For example, saying “Coke” helped them find the matching item. However, speaking an object name with less typical features caused people to slow down.

Other studies of inner speech
It’s been suggested that talking to oneself (inner speech) is beneficial among people with autism. In a recently published study from Durham University, for example, researchers found that suppressing inner speech among adults with autism while they participated in visual recall tasks had a negative impact on their short-term memory.

A study from the University of Western Australia studied the role of inner speech in children with autism and pointed out how “individuals with autism have limitations in their use of inner speech.” These limitations may have an impact on the cognitive performance of children with autism.

According to the authors of the latest study on talking to yourself, theirs is “the first to examine effects of self-directed speech in a relatively simple visual task,” and that it shows “language not only is a communicative tool, but modulates ongoing cognitive and perceptual processes in the language user, thus affecting performance on nonlinguistic tasks.”

Talking to yourself as a way to remember where you put your keys or how to concoct a challenging recipe isn’t crazy; in fact, it is healthy and helpful. In a way, talking to yourself might be viewed as a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, in which you repeat affirmations, a form of positive self-talk. So keep talking to yourself…someone is listening.

SOURCES:
Lupyan G, Swingley D. Self-directed speech affects visual search performance. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 2012; doi: 10.1080/17470218.2011.647039
Whitehouse AJ et al. Inner speech impairments in autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2006 Aug; 47(8): 857-65
Williams DM et al. Inner speech is used to mediate short-term memory, but not planning, among intellectually high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder. Developmental Psychopathology 2012 Feb; 24(1): 225-39

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