Talking to ourselves: The intelligibility of inner speech

Peter P. Slezak
2002 Behavioral and Brain Sciences  
Conflict between response tendencies is ubiquitous in every day performance. Capabilities that resolve such conflicts are therefore mandatory for successful goal achievement. The present study investigates the potential of evaluative and motivational inner speech to help conflict resolution. In our study we assessed six tasks commonly used to measure conflict resolution capabilities and cognitive flexibility in 163 participants. Participants additionally answered questionnaires concerned with
more » ... es concerned with their habitual usage of inner speech such as silently rehearsing task instructions and evaluating performance. We found reduced conflict effects in tasks using symbolic, non-verbal stimuli for participants with higher selfreported use of evaluative and motivational inner speech. Overall, our findings suggest that silent selftalk and performance monitoring are beneficial for conflict resolution over and above constructs such as intelligence and working memory capacity that account for mean RT differences among participants. In everyday tasks, we often encounter opposing response tendencies, which lead to the experience of conflict 1-3 . Mechanisms for conflict resolution and in consequence goal achievement are commonly subsumed under the umbrella term of cognitive control. Investigating the processes underlying cognitive control, frameworks incorporating processes such as inhibition of irrelevant information or switching of attention have been proposed (e.g., by Friedman and Miyake 4 ). In another line of (developmental) research, Luria 5 highlighted the role of language for successful cognitive control and goal achievement. Likewise, Vygotskij 6 argued that language and especially the extended representational power it represents, accelerates cognitive development and allows for more effortful processing, for instance inhibiting irrelevant information. Recently, Gruber and Goschke 7 emphasized the close link between language and cognitive control, assuming verbal representations underlying performance in tasks that require conflict resolution (i.e., conflict tasks). Yet so far, surprisingly little research has been done to investigate the impact of individual preferences for language use and its benefits for conflict tasks in healthy adult participants. Mostly this research has focused on paradigms in which participants were either instructed to use language to help performance 8 or asked to perform a secondary articulation task. In these studies it was found that language either helped or interfered with the primary task requirements 9-12 . Habitual usage of inner speech as a personality trait has not been considered as a predictor for performance in conflict tasks, different to other fields such as athletic performance 13 . Inner speech, i.e., the subjective experience of self-directed language without audible articulation 14 is usually investigated in contexts of health psychology, related to self-regulation 15 and psycho-social well-being [16] [17] [18] . Starting from the ideas of Luria and Vygotski, we predicted that habitually talking to oneself during conflict tasks is beneficial for conflict resolution. Recently, we investigated habitual inner speech in a Simon task. We found that habits related to motivational (i.e., "you can do that") and evaluative (i.e, "well done") inner speech predict the size of the Simon effect 19 . The Simon effect reflects the difference in performance for trials in which the task-irrelevant position of the stimulus on the screen mismatches with the to-be given response compared to trials in which stimulus-location and response-location match. Those participants who engage more in motivational and evaluative inner speech had smaller Simon effects compared to less engaged participants, suggesting
doi:10.1017/s0140525x02490127 fatcat:mqnbehz2xzcqfkt45licbmq4yi