Do you tend to think in strings of words or in successions of images? (You probably think you know the answer to this question. I'd wager that you don't, but let's bracket my outrageous skepticism for today.) Russ Hurlburt (with Chris Heavey and Sarah Akhter) claims that those who think primarily in inner speech tend to be (among other things):
- above average in logical capacity,
- good at planning sequential operations,
- unimaginative, focused on prosaic facts,
- narrow-minded and overconfident,
- less interested than others in relationships and artistry.
Those who tend to think primarily in images, on the other hand, Hurlburt claims, tend to be
- energetic, optimistic, impatient, and fast-talking,
- creative and visionary,
- self-absorbed and poor at seeing things from another's perspective.
These bold claims (along with some caveats and disclaimers) can be found in Chapter 14 of Hurlburt's just-published book with Chris Heavey. Hurlburt, Heavey, and Akhter hint at some ways in which these different characteristics might follow from features of sentences (logical, sequential, matter-of-fact) vs. pictures (rich, vivid, depicting possibilities), but the main basis of their claims seems to be Hurlburt's decades of experience interviewing people about their everyday thoughts and experiences as sampled by a random beeper. Hurlburt, Heavey, and Akhter also describe a few other types.
I find at least two interesting matters to contemplate here: (1.) The potential truth of these claims, and how we can evaluate their truth or falsity. And (2.) my own jumble of defensive reactions. How easy it is, too, to get this defensive rise out of me ("I'm not unimaginative and narrow-minded!"), though of course Russ isn't claiming that everyone who tends to think in words has these traits. I recall my own occasional visual images. Maybe I'm the perfect blend of speaker and imager? Maybe some folks' inner prose (mine!) carries more than others'? Even before I accept the truth of Russ's claims, I find my self-image shifting defensively in reaction to it.
The mere utterance of generalities about groups, by anyone, tends to engage our defenses -- even when we have excellent reason to be skeptical of the claims. I think I'm now completely immune to horoscopes, but the visceral defensive reactions vanished only years after my intellectual dismissal of astrology. Likewise, two years ago, I read some Nazi-era portrayals of the personalities of different racial types, and (I blush to confess) I found myself having similar defensive and self-congratulatory reactions. Is it just me? How can my self-image and my thoughts be so easily commandeered by what I know to be ungrounded utterances!
Maybe Russ is right. I'm not saying his claims are entirely ungrounded. It does seem plausible that differences in the dominant form of one's stream of conscious experience would both reflect and cause differences in cognition and personality. We can and should investigate the matter more thoroughly. And maybe then I'll just have to buck up and accept my aloof logicistic mundaneness -- and you your impatient egoism!