Inner Speech Speaks Volumes About the Brain

Whether you’re reading the paper or thinking through your schedule for the day, chances are that you’re hearing yourself speak even if you’re not saying words out loud. This internal speech — the monologue you “hear” inside your head — is a ubiquitous but largely unexamined phenomenon. A new study looks at a possible brain mechanism that could explain how we hear this inner voice in the absence of actual sound.

In two experiments, researcher Mark Scott of the University of British Columbia found evidence that a brain signal called corollary discharge — a signal that helps us distinguish the sensory experiences we produce ourselves from those produced by external stimuli — plays an important role in our experiences of internal speech.

The findings from the two experiments are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Corollary discharge is a kind of predictive signal generated by the brain that helps to explain, for example, why other people can tickle us but we can’t tickle ourselves. The signal predicts our own movements and effectively cancels out the tickle sensation.

And the same mechanism plays a role in how our auditory system processes speech. When we speak, an internal copy of the sound of our voice is generated in parallel with the external sound we hear.

“We spend a lot of time speaking and that can swamp our auditory system, making it difficult for us to hear other sounds when we are speaking,” Scott explains. “By attenuating the impact our own voice has on our hearing — using the ‘corollary discharge’ prediction — our hearing can remain sensitive to other sounds.”

Scott speculated that the internal copy of our voice produced by corollary discharge can be generated even when there isn’t any external sound, meaning that the sound we hear when we talk inside our heads is actually the internal prediction of the sound of our own voice.

If corollary discharge does in fact underlie our experiences of inner speech, he hypothesized, then the sensory information coming from the outside world should be cancelled out by the internal copy produced by our brains if the two sets of information match, just like when we try to tickle ourselves.

And this is precisely what the data showed. The impact of an external sound was significantly reduced when participants said a syllable in their heads that matched the external sound. Their performance was not significantly affected, however, when the syllable they said in their head didn’t match the one they heard.

These findings provide evidence that internal speech makes use of a system that is primarily involved in processing external speech, and may help shed light on certain pathological conditions.

“This work is important because this theory of internal speech is closely related to theories of the auditory hallucinations associated with schizophrenia,” Scott concludes.

This research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to Bryan Gick, Janet F. Werker and Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson.


Interesting article, however, I am more interested in understanding WHY my inner speech is not always “my” voice. Mostly I just hear the words without there really being a voice, sometimes it’s my own, sometimes it’s a different voice. Not anything unique or anyone famous but more of just a random voice, not always matching my gender. I can also choose for this voice to be any voice I want it to, even famous voices. But I am still more interested in why, when I am not choosing or even aware, the voice can change from being voiceless to male to female with no thought or encouragement from me.

I was researching in hopes to find an underlining important message I feel as though I’ve missed, was that this auditory voice in my head almost splits my mind as one minute I’ll be recognising all the great things that have happened in my day and all the things I’ll look forward to and any positive outcome that lies ahead to my mind being nearly as fast as switching the lights off and it feels like utter pure darkness and all of a sudden my mind spills a sick story and things begin to feel like I’m listening to a horror movie about myself. Sometimes it makes me physically sick how deep into thought it gets and I’m having to tell myself out loud to ‘stop thinking’ or to ‘cut it out’ as Its my own mind doing it although it feels as if it’s not. Ive been practicing meditation as of late as maybe with work and living in the city you tend to sometimes feel very disconnected with yourself and need that time alone but this is happening and it’s real and it’s almost crippling to me. If anyone can explain patterns that our minds create while we’re young as to why mine might be doing this? I reflect a lot on past actions, scenes, happenings. My mind is constantly thinking and talking and it never ends. As a person of their 20’s, is this normal or should I actively go seek help?

Hey Brie. I know exactly what you arr talking about i have the same problem. I know how difficulty it is to live like that. Seek help fast


Negative voices about who you are can be a result of traumatic childhood experiences. On the one hand, your mind accepts the negativity but on the other hand, it replays because there is a disconnect that has not been resolved.

If that is the case, get in touch with a professional who specializes in childhood trauma. You can also research and learn more about Complex PTSD

I wonder if this is similar to my case in which when im thinking or talking inside my head, it feels like im whispering inside my head, like theres an echo or something.

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