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People Are Weirded Out To Discover That Some People Don’t Have An Internal Monologue

I don’t know about you, but I’d always just assumed that even though people think different (and mostly wrong – do better, everybody) thoughts from myself, everyone sort of thinks in roughly the same way that I do.

Well, it turns out that is not the case at all, and I’m far from alone in my mistake. A tweet went viral last week, and it’s sparked a lot of conversation about whether or not people have internal monologues.

For me, I’d always assumed that everybody has an internal monologue, and that monologue is voiced by Patrick Stewart. It’s odd to learn that a lot of people don’t have this at all, or it’s portrayed by someone other than Captain Picard.

Most people do genuinely seem surprised to learn about people thinking in the opposite way to them.

Ask people around you and you’ll likely find someone who doesn’t think the way you do.

A colleague (Tom Hale) told me he doesn’t hear an internal monologue, and responded with annoyance when I suggested that his lack of internal monologue made him like a non-playable character in a video game, or a Buddhist monk that’s achieved enlightenment.

“Do you walk around saying in your head ‘OK, up the stairs, then open the door, then I shall open the toilet seat’,” he asked me, in a confrontational manner. “I just think in abstract terms, I guess? If I want a coffee, I won’t say in my head (like a maniac) ‘I am a bit tired and thirsty, I shall make myself a coffee’. I just think about it abstractly, maybe imagine walking over to the kettle, etc.”

Something experienced by a lot of people online.

For me, in reality, it’s a bit of a mix. For mundane tasks, I don’t think [Patrick Stewart voice] “I am hungry now, some porridge I shall consume!”. This is all done in abstract, maybe an image of porridge accompanied by a feeling of hunger. But more complex stuff, like thoughts about what I want to do over the next year or so, will be done through an inner monologue, sometimes with a cockney accent just to keep things fresh.

For the large part, I will have full conversations inside my head, sometimes like an argument where I’ll dismiss something my inner monologue has said a second ago. It’s basically like what happens on British sitcom Peep Show. 

A (non-scientific) poll beneath the viral post on inner monologues showed that the majority of people experience their thoughts as words (currently around 58 percent), with 14 percent experiencing thoughts as concepts, and 19 percent experiencing both.

In more scientific studies, it seems people experience more of a mix than the self-selected responders to a viral post that implied it was either/or.