Friday, June 23, 2006

The Pace of Inner Speech

More thoughts on inner speech. Really, how can anything as pervasive and interesting in consciousness as inner speech -- our silent talking to ourselves -- be so unstudied?

Here's a question: Does inner speech generally transpire at the same speed as outer speech? It's natural, perhaps, to think so. Russ Hurlburt tells me that's what his subjects usually report, when he gives them a beeper to wear during normal daily activity and asks about their sampled experiences (at "the last undisturbed moment prior to the beep").

Yet when Russ and I sampled a subject together, she said that her inner speech seemed to go very fast, "speeded", yet "without being rushed"; and there's something I found appealing in that description. I've begun to wonder whether most people's reports of the pace of inner speech are based more on an unexamined assumption about its pace than on careful observation.

Try this experiment: Say the sentence "I wonder if inner speech is faster or slower than outer speech", first in inner speech, then in outer speech (or the other way around). Did one seem faster than the other?

My impression: The inner speech was faster. I could make the outer speech seem to take about roughly the same time, but only by really rushing it in a way that the inner speech did not feel rushed. But I don't know. There's something awfully artificial about this exercise, and inner speech as it occurs spontaneously in ordinary life might behave very differently.

Another reflection: If you have a complicated thought, and it seems to be in inner speech, such as "If a complicated thought, in a long sentence of inner speech, would take ten seconds to say out loud, does it take ten seconds to think it in inner speech too?" I'm guessing not. But then maybe we're too quick to assume that our thoughts are in inner speech. This tangles up with issues about the sense of what one's about to say that I remarked on Monday.

I'd like some more rigorous way to study this. Any thoughts?


Brad C said...

I was off the grid for a while; good to see you have raised such interesting issues in the mean-time.

Some thoughts on this inner speech speed issue:

(1) I agree that inner speech seems faster. Why might it be faster? Well, obviously the fact that you do not need to move the lips could speed things up, but I also think that inner speech is like a monologue more often than overt speech is. Inner speech also takes the form of a running description of our experience more often than overt speech does - we only rarely overtly narrate our lives like the "James" character does the movie Wonder Boys.

We might be conditioned to pause or go more slowly when we tal out loud becuase sometime others might want to respond or butt in. When taking out loud we also often need to be watching others for visual clues that they want to respond, do not understand, etc. and that requires cognitive resources that might slow down our performance time/habitual speaking speed.

I also wonder about how previous knoweldge of the sentences spoken would impact this.

(2) Test ideas:

(i) Ask subject to recite in their head the words to their national anthem or "happy birthday" & have them hit tab as they recite the first and last words. Then have them do it out loud in the same fashion. Variations to control for set-up effects: priming them by having them listen to it before hand, and also switch the order of the inner/overt runs in order to control for order based effects.

(ii) Run it with times-tables or the alphabet. Or a phrase from a well known nursery tale (would have to ask if they know it "by heart" beforehand (and in a variation ask them afterward))

(ii) Run with a new song they do not know beforehand or a new short phrase.

(iii) Run with a dialogue content. This will be harder to pull off in the "they already know by heart" format, but there may be dialogue that many know.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the thoughts, as always, Brad. One of the great things about blogging is being able to think through issues with intelligent folks like you!

The several points you raise in (1) all seem very plausible to me. Especially: The physiological apparatus that needs to be set into motion to shape the phonemes seems, in many cases, to be the slow, rate-determining part of speaking aloud. We're not used to "forcing" it to operate quickly.

I like your test ideas, especially the alphabet version. It's known by heart so that there's no reading/comprehension/thinking about it slowing down the pace. And although there is an "alphabet song", I'd guess subjects would be less prone to slow down to get the rhythm and tempo right than they might for "Happy Birthday" or the national anthem.

As a (partial) check to see if subjects really are reciting in inner speech, one might occasionally interrupt them and ask where they are in the relevant passage. They should have an instant answer, appropriately far along in the passage to reflect the time that has passed since they began the recitation.

One could also compare "normal pace" vs. "as fast as possible" instructions.

That would a pretty cool little experiment. Now all I need is a grad student I can snooker into running it and about 20 subjects....

Anonymous said...

Good Day Prof. Schwitzgebel:

I'd stumbled on your blog and thought I should say "hello" to you. It's been a long tme since I said hello.

This is Rishi Bhatt. I'm not sure if you remeber me, but I was a student at UCR majoring in Philosophy who transfered to UCLA. I stoped by your office a few times to chat about colleges, philosophy, and the like.

I've noticed that philosophy at UCLA is different from UCR's. I miss, however, UCR and the brillant yet nice professors at UCR. In fact, I miss the whole darn dept at UCR; and sometimes I wish I were back at UCR. But I've been growing a lot at UCLA, though I really wish I were more creative in my thinking.

These days, I'm interested in philosophy of language and philosophy of religion. In phil of langauge, I'm really into Frege's sense and referense. I have sometime like a brakish taste when I read sense and reference: I don't like the theory, though I've been totally amiss at trying to discover why this is so. Something just isn't right, yet I can't find what it is! In terms of phil of religion I've been reading Kiker's "Fear and Trembling" and, let me say that I think that first time I read it and thought I understood it -- I'd been kidding my self! It's been a great process, but slow one, my friend. Not just this, but I think I K leaves a ton of un-answered questions that I'd like to ask him one day!!

In any case, it's getting a little late. I hope to keep in touch with you. Be well and enjoy each day we have!

Best Wishes,

Rishi Bhatt (my blog)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Good to hear from you, Rishi. I'll go over to your blog and say hi!