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.

Very interesting. In my case my inner voice tells me things like you know her from somewhere or even what the answer is in a test without me fully thinking about it. I would love to read more on this topic

Yes I totally agree I can hear a voice but not sure whose it is lol

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

To you and others who are feeling completely overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of thoughts, help is possible! I would say that you are probably victims of overload within yourselves. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder); a mental illness that can occur following a traumatic experience, can be affecting your mental thought process. There are medications that you can take to slow down, or even completely stop these recordings in your own head. Then, through talk therapy you will work through these traumatic events with a therapist. Believe, as someone who can empathize with your plight, I pray you reach out because a better life is within reach!

I know this is quite a few years down the line, and not sure if it really will help any, but this article helped me understand my brain a little bit better.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201803/the-voice-inside-your-head

What could be happening is that your brain is either underproducing or underreleasing dopamine. Different mental processes that would normally work independently must cooperate in order to save dopamine. Don’t worry your brain will eventually fix itself; your still in your 20’s. Remember your not the enemy, and void yourself of any notion of duality within your self or in the wider world. Good and evil don’t exist, true and false don’t exist, life is fundamentally different from death not the opposite.

Your comment resonates with me. What you describe is actually how I came across this article. My internal monologue is constantly running, even when other people are speaking to me. I do feel that it has something to do with my adolescence, as I spent 90% of my time in isolation. I remember thinking about how I would, when older, tell people about how I would listen to music and imagine a bunch of scenarios in my head. Now I realize that that was just another instance of me overthinking/being stuck in my head. I would love to shut my thoughts off. Eckhart has helped me do this a bit.

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 get that as well, I play a song repeatedly in my head. I also fight myself on things I say and do in my head. It’s quite exhausting

Yes! I have that all the time. My brain will come up with a totally random storyline, just a snippet, or a phrase. It can be words or music, and it simply sets itself onto a loop, rather like a mantra. It doesn’t upset me even though sometimes the words might have negative connotations. I was never sure if it was normal but I have always just accepted it as part of me. Unlike some of the others on this thread, I only ever ‘hear’ my own voice. I suspect I have always had very active internal speech, but I think it’d only be something to worry about if you found it distressing, which I don’t at all. I rather enjoy it.

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.

Isaac, I’m not a psychologist, but what you’re describing sounds like it could be dissociative identity disorder, which is usually caused by severe trauma during early childhood.

That is an extreme mental illness, and typically the person with DID is not aware of the different “personalities” in them. I would be careful about suggesting someone has a mental illness when you know so little about them.

Interesting read! The voice inside my head is always voiceless, unless I “assign” it one, consciously or unconsciously. But a good portion of the time even dialog is “voiceless,” unless I have some sort of preconceived notion what a character or person is supposed to sound like. Thinking in my own, actual voice kinda makes me feel uncomfortable tbh.

I have a constant inner monologue. It is always my voice and it never stops. It just chats on and on and on. Sometimes, usually at night, I get a phrase or song on repeat for hours which keeps me awake. This can happen for days at a time till I’m so exhausted I sleep solidly. This has been happening for years. Last night oddly I sang the theme tune to the ITV show Victoria as loud as I could over and over again and it kind of drowned everything else out till I fell asleep.

Okay so, im not very educated on this subject, i just thought id share that my inner voice is actually my own voice but its not always there, its usually a voice of reason or hyping me up. And its only there when im not having a depressive episode or when im kinda effed up. Any insight on this would be helpful. I know im tapped. The question is, how tapped? Lmao

After reading everyone’s comments and a few articles it seems the majority of humans have an internal monologue or dialogue whirling through their brain at some stage. But it seems the only defining differences are a person’s mental state. If someone has high self worth or confidence their dialogue would be more complimentary VS a person with depression and anxiety that would consist of opposing thoughts, and ruminating on past and future events. I think the speed, aggression and possibly sound of one’s inner dialogue may all just be linked to how we perceive the world and ourselves and the environment that shaped us mentally. Schizophrenics suffer auditory hallucinations and seem to be bombarded by there inner dialogue externally. It was really interesting reading everyone’s versions of what they perceive internally and I think if ones inner discussion is disturbing their day to day life that maybe looking into cognitive behavioural therapy or even just reflecting on the things that defined your personality growing up may help reshape any negative banter going back and forth through one’s brain. Or a few glasses of wine to dumb down the old noodle seems to work for me when my brain want stop its incessant chattering. Cheers

I find the article interesting but also the comments. It never occurred to me that there are folks that do not have an ongoing monologue in their head. I have a very constant conversation that changes tones, voices, and content-constantly. My husband has learned over 25 years to kinda “ignore” me as I am silent and then talking out loud and then silent and then talking about a totally different subject. I don’t expect him to join in my conversation. In fact, my mom has told me that I never lacked for someone to talk to, because I didn’t feel that I needed anyone but myself to communicate with. I am a fully functional adult in a satisfying career and a family. I say that because sometimes I am surprised that I can hold a job due to the constant chatter in my head and how it routinely falls out of my mouth. I have worked to silence my mouth even if the mind refuses. I hope to find more information on this as I find it truly intriguing.

Whoa. Big revelations happening over the last 12 hours for me—My thoughts are silent. Just quiet introspective. My memories (from the past and even from seconds ago) have no mental picture. Just a black space where I think ABOUT but not see. I can’t hear a song in my head but I can think about a tune. I can’t force myself to feel an emotional response without a reason tied to it…but my sister and most others seem to be able to. Are others able to mentally use all their senses — taste, touch…? If so, that’s like a sixth sense and I’m missing out.

Thanks! This is very interesting and everything matched up with my experience with my inner voice 🙂 I always wondered about how my brain recognised what’s external stimuli and what’s merely me replicating past external stimuli in my mind so that was particularly interesting!

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