Internal monologue

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Internal monologue or self-talk refers to a person's inner voice that provides a running monologue while we are awake.[1] It reflects both conscious and unconscious beliefs. Self-talk influences how a person reacts to a situation—both how they feel and what they do. This is called the cognitive model.[2] Self-talk can be positive, neutral or negative.

Positive self-talk[edit]

Positive self-talk (also known as helpful self-talk) involves noticing the reality of the situation, overriding beliefs and biases that can lead to negative self-talk.[3] Positive self-talk is not delusional, as it does not involve having thoughts that are not based on reality.

Coping self-talk is a particular form of positive self-talk that helps improve performance.[4] It is more effective than generic positive self-talk.[5] and improves engagement in a task.[6] It has three components:

  1. It acknowledges the emotion the person is feeling.
  2. It provides some reassurance.
  3. It is said in non-first person.

An example of coping self-talk is, "John, you're anxious about doing the presentation. Most of the other students are as well. You will be fine." Coping self-talk is a healthy coping strategy.[7]

Instructional self-talk focusses attention on the components of a task and can improve performance on physical tasks that are being learnt[8][9], however it can be detrimental for people who are already skilled in the task.[10]

Negative self-talk[edit]

Negative self-talk (also known as unhelpful self-talk) refers to inner critical dialogue. It is based on beliefs about ourselves that develop during childhood based on feedback of others, particularly parents.[11][12][13] These beliefs create a lens through which the present is viewed. Examples of these core beliefs that lead to negative self-talk are: "I am worthless", "I am a failure", "I am unlovable".[14]

Role in mental health[edit]

Negative self-talk has been implicated in contributing to psychological disorders.[15][16][17][18][19][20] Cognitive therapy aims to improve functioning by helping people identify and change negative self-talk. It involves identifying the beliefs that colour our perception of the world.[21] Reminding yourself to never say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend is a good strategy to develop positive self-talk.[22]

Challenging unhelpful or negative thoughts can include questions that:

  1. act as a reality check
  2. seek alternative explanations
  3. put things into perspective
  4. are goal-directed.[23]

In a popular article for Psychology Today, Russell T Hurlburt says not everyone reports experiencing inner monologue. In his study, 30 college students were prompted during their normal daily activities by a random beep to report what they had been experiencing just then. Out of hundreds of individual reports, about 20% of these experiences included inner monologue while 80% were of other inner experiences like sensation and imagery. Hurlbut does not say what percent of his subjects never reported any inner monologue.[24]

Theories for internal monologue[edit]

Scholars have contended the concept of self-talk since the early 20th century.

Piaget's theory[edit]

In the 1920s, Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist, proposed the idea that internal monologue was found in adolescents and reflected the inability to take other individual's perspectives and modify their speech to their listeners (1). According to Piaget, inner speech resulted from the lack of ability to communicate with others. He suggested that the concept of "internal monologue" would fade away as the child aged because the individual would become more skilled at taking the perspective of the listeners into account.

Vygotsky's theory[edit]

In the 1930s, a Russian psychologist expanded on the theory of internal monologue. Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky proposed a different theory for internal monologue. Vygotsky theorized that children intentionally repurposed words that they had previously used successfully with other people. Instead of using language to regulate the behavior of others, individuals were using self-talk to regulate themselves.

One of the most important components of Vygotsky's theory is that self-talk should have the same structure as verbal conversation (specifically the quality of dialogue with different points of view). However, as speech is internalized, its form changes. When an individual internalizes speech, different kinds of abbreviations are utilized.(1). While Vygotsky's theory for internal monologue is rather straightforward, the implications behind the concept are complex. Within the past 10 years, research has brought Vygotsky's theory of internal monologue into the spotlight.

Neurological correlates of self-talk[edit]

The concept of internal monologue is not new, but the emergence of functional MRIs has further investigated the understanding of the function of words in our thinking.

Studies have revealed the differences in neural activations of inner dialogues versus those of monologues. Functional MRI imaging studies have shown that monologic internal speech involves the activation of the superior temporal gyrus and the left inferior frontal gyrus, which is the standard language system that is activated during any kind of speech. However, dialogical inner speech implicates several additional neural regions. Studies have indicated overlap with regions involved with thinking about other minds.

In regards to research on inner speech Fernyhough stated, "The new science of inner speech tells us that it is anything but a solitary process. Much of the power of self-talk comes from the way it orchestrates a dialogue between different points of view." Based on interpretation of functional medical-imaging, Fernyhough believes that language system of internal dialogue works in conjunction with a part of the social cognition system (localized in the right hemisphere close to the intersection between the temporal and parietal lobes). Neural imaging seems to support Vygotsky's theory that when individuals are talking to themselves, they are having an actual conversation. Intriguingly, individuals did not exhibit this same arrangement of neural activation with silent monologues. In past studies, it has been supported that these two brain hemispheres to have different functions. Based on Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, inner speech has been shown to more significant activations farther back in the temporal lobe, in Heschl's gyrus.

However, the results of neural imaging have to be taken with caution because the regions of the brain activated during spontaneous, natural internal speech diverge from those that are activated on demand. In research studies, individuals are asked to talk to themselves on demand, which is different than the natural development of inner speech within one's mind. The concept of internal monologue is an elusive study and is subjective to many implications with future studies.

In literature[edit]

In literary criticism there is a similar term, interior monologue. This, sometimes, is used as a synonym for stream of consciousness: a narrative mode or method that attempts to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind.[25] However, the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms suggests, that "they can also be distinguished psychologically and literarily. In a psychological sense, stream of consciousness is the subject‐matter, while interior monologue is the technique for presenting it". And for literature, "while an interior monologue always presents a character's thoughts 'directly', without the apparent intervention of a summarizing and selecting narrator, it does not necessarily mingle them with impressions and perceptions, nor does it necessarily violate the norms of grammar, or logic—but the stream of consciousness technique also does one or both of these things".[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Beck, AT (2008) "The Evolution of the Cognitive Model of Depression and Its Neurobiological Correlates". Am J Psychiatry 165:969–977. PMID 18628348
  3. ^
  4. ^ Stallman, H. M. (2017). Care · Collaborate · Connect: Suicide Prevention Training Program. Adelaide: University of South Australia.
  5. ^ Dolcos, S. & Albarracin, D. (2014). The inner speech of behavioral regulation: Intentions and task performance strengthen when you talk to yourself as a You. European Journal of Social Psychology
  6. ^ Wang, C., Shim, S. S., & Wolters, C. A. (2017). Achievement goals, motivational self-talk, and academic engagement among Chinese students. Asia Pacific Education Review, 18(3), 295-307. doi:10.1007/s12564-017-9495-4
  7. ^ Stallman, H. M. (2018). Coping Planning: A patient- and strengths-focused approach to suicide prevention training. Australasian Psychiatry. Advance online publication, doi :
  8. ^ Tod, D., Hardy, J., & Oliver, E. (2011). Effects of self-talk: A systematic review. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 33, 666–687.
  9. ^ Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Galanis, E., & Theordorakis, Y. (2011). Self-talk and sports performance: A meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 348–356. doi:10.1177/1745691611413136
  10. ^ Beilock, S. L., Carr, T.H., McMahon, C.,&Starkes, J. L (2002).When paying attention becomes counterproductive: Impact of divided versus skill focused attention on novice and experienced performance of sensorimotor skills. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 8, 6–16. doi:10.1037/1076-898X.8.1.6
  11. ^ Beck, A.T. (1999). Prisoners of hate: The cognitive basis of anger, hostility, and violence. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-019377-8
  12. ^ Clark, D.A., & Beck, A.T. (1999). Scientific foundations of cognitive theory and therapy of depression. New York, NY: Wiley. ISBN 0-471-18970-7
  13. ^ Beck, A.T. (1972). Depression: Causes and treatment. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-7652-7
  14. ^
  15. ^ Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-000-7
  16. ^ Beck, A.T. (1999). Prisoners of hate: The cognitive basis of anger, hostility, and violence. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-019377-8
  17. ^ Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., & Davis, D.D. (2003). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-856-7
  18. ^ Winterowd, C., Beck, A.T., & Gruener, D. (2003). Cognitive therapy with chronic pain patients. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8261-4595-7
  19. ^ Beck, A.T., Emery, G., & Greenberg, R.L. (2005). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. New York, NY: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00587-X
  20. ^ Beck, A.T., Rector, N.A., Stolar, N., & Grant, P. (2008). Schizophrenia: Cognitive theory, research, and therapy. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-60623-018-3
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ J. A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms. (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books,1984), pp. 660-1).
  26. ^ ed. Chris Baldick, Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2009, p. 212.