If you’re reading this and are thinking, “What the hell is an inner monologue?” Then baby, I’m sorry to tell you, but you don’t have one. Instead, you’re way cooler.
Recently my mind was absolutely blown by a poll posted on one of my favourite Instagram’s/new sources, ‘Shit You Should Care About’ (the creator is a kiwi gal, after my own heart). The poll asks: “Do you have an inner monologue?” Me, being an idiot thinking I’m the main character of the universe and that everybody else absolutely thinks like I do, even though scientists have actually come out and said, ‘Sorry folks, everybody has a brain but we have absolutely no idea how it works!’ had my mind blown realizing that some people think in unverbalized thoughts and feelings rather than words. The creator of SYSCA, Luce, does not have an inner monologue, and neither did 12% of her followers who took part in her poll.
That’s like… a good chunk of people, that don’t go, “Oh, Claudia, you big idiot, you forgot the grocery list again” and instead just think in… aether? I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine how other people think to themselves without speaking to themselves internally. I’m used to a constant stream of commentary, so imagining that other people have a similarly vivid inner life without the constant chatter is… pretty amazing.
Developed during childhood, an inner monologue is not just talking to yourself about your daily life. It’s also common to have a dialogue with yourself, reason with yourself, even debate. Inner dialogue can also be critical and negative, or perhaps even practicing what you’re going to say ahead of time for a big presentation, or an argument.
If you watch young children playing on their own, usually they’re chatting away – a form of inner monologue that as they grow older will turn inward. Imaginary friends also fall under the inner monologue category. When you’re reading a book and you have an inner monologue, you will read it in your voice – and annotate or comment on what you’re reading too, in your mind.
It’s unclear how many people have an inner monologue and how many people don’t. In SYSCA’s poll 88% of her followers do. In a poll I put up on my story, 100% of my friends do, although one messaged me after and said, “I’m not sure I do. Only if I’m mentally preparing for something, but all the time? No way.” Psychology professor Russell Hurlburt who has been studying the inner experience for more than 40 years, estimates that 30 to 50 percent of people have an inner monologue narrating their thoughts throughout the day.
Inner monologue varies too. Some people, like myself, have it all the time. I comment on things in my head; when I read a book I hear it in my voice; I’ll debate with myself – and it sometimes spill over into the verbal, like “Oh shoot!” and then continued on in my head, ‘I forgot the grocery list. What was on it again? Milk, eggs…” Some people have it in some things, but not in others, so say they were swiping away on Hinge, they wouldn’t be thinking, ‘Hell no, that guy runs way too many marathons,’ but they would on the other hand be able to recall or sing a song in their head.
Another study done in 2013 shows that there is huge amounts of variation in the way that people internally narrate – if they narrate at all. “The average frequency of inner speaking across those who took part in the research, at 23%, masks a huge range: from 100% – i.e. for some people, every time they were sampled they had some kind of internal monologue or inner conversation going on – to 0% – i.e. some people were never speaking to themselves internally.”
As someone who thinks almost 100% verbally, it blows my mind that people think without words, or don’t have a constant running commentary up in their brains (sometimes, I would like to turn mine off – so it’s probably a blessing), but if they don’t think verbally, in what way do they think?
just found out people dont have an inner monologue ??? i literally dont have peace and quiet up in here unless i meditate because im always narrating everything in my life and thinking ?!?!?!? YOU’RE TELLING ME PEOPLE DON’T ???— christine (@semiworking) February 12, 2020
Another way of thinking is solely with imagery. Visual cues and memories make up a large portion of the way other people think, and it’s likely that those people are usually more imaginative and creative – and also coincidentally have better memories.
You can also think in feelings and emotions. If you’re having an argument with a friend, some might visualize future situations, some might flit through several feelings or hurt or anger, and some, like me, might be narrating and commenting while it’s happening.
Abstract thoughts are a thing too, which is as far as I understand… aether? Clouds? I’m not sure, but at any rate people with abstract thinking function just fine, however mysterious they are…
Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to figure out which way you think, and can be detrimental to your inner life to struggle to figure it out. If you’re wondering whether you have an inner monologue, and you’re not sure – don’t stress yourself out trying to understand it, it’s not that important, and everybody thinks in a variety of different ways – it’s not black and white. As American philosopher William James describes it, “The attempt at introspective analysis… is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks.” I.e. you’ll do your head in worrying about it – pun intended.
It is interesting for those of us who can answer reflexively, ‘Yes I do!’ or ‘No, what’s that?’ What about you? Do you have an inner monologue? As you were reading this, can you hear it in your head? Is it in your voice? Interesting to think about anyway. Sweet baby Jesus, I need an Advil…
Feature image via Vogue Paris