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.

Comments

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

Brie,

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

Hey Brie

Apologies in advance for the length of this reply…

So…i guess ill start by saying, I’m 27 and live in the uk, and felt, or thought i felt, like i can massively relate to what you describe in your message(atleast when i started typeing this i did)..i felt the article was missing some kind of point aswell,i dont know if you will get this…or even if this thread is still a thing..or if my message will have a point either haha but either way im past careing tbh…..but i just wanted to let you know, your not alone, i too have the same mind numbing internalised own voice constant reuminating daily thoughts happenings not being able to switch off, useless memory complete feeling of constant whirlwind of auditry bull shit..this message for example has taken the best part of an 2hrs and perhaps you could tell by its inconsistancies it has been read re read and altered changed and corrected over 100 times. I tell myself to “shut the fuck up” or “get a grip” when i just want to think clearly or even just relax at the end of a day or it really would be nice to not think atall…i miss that the most. But i feel your pain.. I go fell running alot and climbing and i guess you could say i lead a pretty busy life(by design i like this,as if my mind is preoccupied i do not focus so much on the fact every single thought i produce is a verbal one) just for the record ..i have a steady job, a 4yo son, a house, a girlfriend and before christmas had my own side business on etsy, but all of those things, lovely how they are, and appreciate them as i do, however I feel helplessley detatched from all of them. as the voice in my mind will not stop long enough to allow me to properly comprehend any of it,i also reflect alot like you which may have a part to play. ive been like this getting gradually worse for a year. I probably should add i am bipolar type 2… and put this down to the “dipression” side of the illness… but the reality is it started for me with typeing or thinking out replys to messages to my gf after we had fallen out quite badly ….i guess i just wanted to say your not alone,and in an odd way i find it kinda comforting to know that there is someone else out there going thru something slightly similar to myself…I have been searching and searching for the best part of a year as to a soulution for or a cure for what is happening. There is hope, ive been here before twice since my teens and got better it just takes time and unfortunately for me i had to admitt i had a problem before i could recieve any help..this was easier said than done and i still have trouble with to this day..if you would like to chat or ask any qs id be happy to try and answer. Ktf Dan

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.

Brie,I get exactly the same thing but I am 13. I always thought hat it happened to everyone . I often feel like two sides of my brain are arguing. Do you ever get a word or phrase stuck repeating in your head like a catchy song but you just can’t stop it repeating?

I thought it was normal to argue with myself. Like when you tell yourself to shut up.

I do it, but not in a voice. It’s words for sure but not even necessarily with emotional tones until I actually vocalize it audibly

Whenever I’ve tried to understand how most people say that their thoughts are describable as voices, I find I have an actual inability to imagine what it would be like if my own thoughts sounded like, anything. So hard to explain. Other than in dreams, voices representing certain thoughts, maybe through inner conflicts like making a decision or even self assurance etc is something I know must be true for most people. 33 years to question it, until today I almost felt like there was some pop culture inside joke I just went along with because it works in movies. Who knows really, I tried to make a digital description of a thought about not being able to understand a thought someone else tried to describe.

I was hoping this might explain why I have a “split” internal monologue. There is my voice that speaks in my mind, but there is also another that sounds like me, but different. It is sadder, younger and sounds like how I spoke as a child. It is weird in the sense that I often have no control over thoughts of either unless I deliberately set out to restrain my thinking. I also find that the two have distinct debates when I let my thoughts wander, as in one will say something, and the other will either agree or disagree. Both have their own lines of reasoning, though one seems to be a dreamer, more emotional, and the other other “me” seems far more clinical, cold and logical. I typically listen to both. Can anyone please help me with this? I’ve been researching and can’t find anything that I think links to this.

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