Talking to yourself is something that can make you look a little crazy. This is something we know all-too well from our experiences with hands-free kits: often we double take before realizing that the seemingly unhinged person coming the other way down the road is actually speaking into a mic…
But while talking to ourselves might seem unusual, it’s actually completely normal and even a sign that you are psychologically healthy!
The technical term for speaking to yourself is ‘private speech’ and this is more commonly observed in young children aged 2-7. At this age, private speech is the externalization of their thought. Many of us will have an ‘internal monologue’ and for children, this is expressed verbally: thinking out loud. At a certain age, this thought becomes entirely internalized (1).
But while we talk to ourselves less as adults, we still do it on occasion. In fact, a 2002 study found that over 80% of adults speak to themselves during study and in tests. What’s more, is that those who used private speech actually had higher scores (2).
Speaking out loud can be a useful tool, as it allows us to ‘hear’ our thoughts and thereby to gain a more objective perspective on them. It can also aid with memory, by engaging our auditory memory (the ‘phonological loop’ aspect of the working memory).
When we become lonely, we are more likely to speak to ourselves more often and this can be a useful way to alleviate loneliness. In this case, it seems that hearing a human voice makes us feel less isolated – even if that voice is coming from ourselves!
So if self-talk is so normal and useful, why is it that we often think of it as being a sign of madness?
While there are a few possible explanations, one of the most likely is that this is due to association with certain other conditions that cause disorganized thinking and similar self-talk. For example, if you have ever seen a homeless person appearing to talk to themselves, that is likely to be an example of Korsakoff’s syndrome. This is a form of dementia that causes the individual to talk to themselves, swear, cry and laugh for seemingly no reason – and it is caused by alcohol.
So talking to yourself is not in itself a sign of craziness – it’s more about the content of what you’re saying!