Talking to Yourself Makes You Smarter

Illustration for article titled Talking to Yourself Makes You Smarter

Talking to yourself is the preserve of mad men, right? Not according to a new study, which reveals that the seemingly irrational act of chatting to oneself actually improves cognitive function.


The research, carried out by Gary Lupyan and Daniel Swingley, was inspired the pair's experiences of seeing people audibly muttering to themselves when trying to find items on supermarket shelves. To test whether speaking to oneself was actually beneficial, Lupyan and Swingley devised a set of experiments.

In one experiment, volunteers were shown 20 pictures of everyday objects of the same kind and asked to search out a specific one. Initially participants were shown a piece of text telling them which object to find and left to complete the task in silence. Then, in subsequent tests involving different objects, the participants were asked to repeatedly say the name of the object they were searching for. Across the board, the objects were found more quickly when participants were speaking to themselves.

In a second experiment, the volunteers were made to perform a virtual shopping task. Here, they were presented with a wide range of objects typically found in a supermarket, and asked to locate a particular item. Again, they performed this task in silence and whilst talking to themselves. Again, when participants spoke to themselves they found the object more quickly—but only when they were familiar with the name. So, repeating the word "coke" helps you zero-in cola, but muttering "RIM PlayBook" if you've never heard of one—and who has?—won't help you find one any quicker. The results are published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

So, next time you lose your phone around the house, you know exactly what to do. Act nuts. [Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology]

Image by Tony Bowler/Shutterstock


Platypus Man

I constantly talk to myself. If I'm in a group that I don't want to freak out, I'll put my hand in front of my mouth so no one else can tell.

The way I figure it is this — I can think many things at once and it can get difficult to concentrate on one thing. However, I can only say one thing at a time and I can really only think one thing at a time, so saying what it is forces me to concentrate on it a lot more. I've done it for years.

Alternately, I'll vocalize both sides of an "internal" debate to try and come to a conclusion of some sort. Again, it's just easier to concentrate. Sometimes I don't understand how people do it all in their head...