Here’s another arcane falsehood steeped in stigma that you can now toss out the window, thanks to modern science: It’s OK to talk to yourself. Most of the time, it’s a good idea, in fact.
Several studies have emerged in recent years explaining the benefits of talking to one’s self. But because for years society labeled those who talk to themselves as mentally ill, which may be appropriate in rare cases, most of us avoid it at our own peril.
In a recent CNN report, a commentator discussed this phenomenon, citing a 2001 study. The study concluded that if we didn’t have the ability to speak, our minds essentially would be just like those of monkeys.
“The findings…underline the critical dynamic influence that the additional availability of language may have on working memory processes and their functional implementation in the human brain,” concluded Gruber et al.
The author of the CNN piece is Paloma Mari-Beffa, senior lecturer in Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology at Bangor University. She goes on to say that in a small study a few years back, she and a colleague showed “that talking out loud actually improves control over a task, above and beyond what is achieved by inner speech.”
Is any of this surprising? Who can forget the adorable “Sesame Street” video of the 1970s, where a mother sends her daughter to the store. The mother asks the girl if she would like a written list so she will not forget the items on the walk to the store. The girl says no, she will remember.
She repeats the items out loud all the way to the store, and she does remember. For readers who want a stroll down memory lane, you can view the short clip by clicking here.
In another piece appearing this week in Harvard Business Review, Ulrich Boser explains how a colleague outperformed his much younger peers in a computer science course simply by talking out loud to himself rather often.
University of Illinois psychologist Brian Ross, a learning researcher, told Boser he used a method called “self-explaining” during the course. Essentially, it’s as simple as asking yourself, “What does this mean? Why does it matter?” and the like whenever you become perplexed with something you learn.
“We develop skills more effectively by thinking about our thinking,” Boser writes. “For one thing, it slows us down – and when we’re more deliberate, we typically gain more from an experience.”
According to Boser, talking out loud also allows us to summarize (explaining what we learned in class to a friend, for example) and reinforce it in our memories.
Indeed, Mari-Beffa agrees that we should be talking to ourselves when trying to learn something new or solve difficult problems.
“The stereotype of the mad scientist talking to themselves, lost in their own inner world, might reflect the reality of a genius who uses all the means at their disposal to increase their brain power,” she concludes in her CNN commentary.