Have you ever heard of the phenomenon of inner monologue or inner thought? This topic became popular on Twitter last year when Twitter user @KylePlantEmoji posted two tweets about verbal and non-verbal thoughts, stating: “Fun fact: some people have an internal narrative, and some don’t. As in, some people’s thoughts are like sentences they “hear”, and some people just have abstract non-verbal thoughts, and have to consciously verbalize them. And most people aren’t aware of the other type of person. No, no one does both. You are a very special boy for doing both. Congratulations.” Slightly mind-blowing if you are someone who has never thought about this before, right?

These tweets sparked conversations and other articles about the ways in which people think.  Most of all, it made me curious about the two modes of human thought, which are designated as verbal and visual. It never occurred to me before, but it completely makes sense that not everyone’s process of thought is exactly the same.

Psychologists really began to study this phenomenon in the 1930s. The idea of inner speech was suggested by Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist. An inner monologue is a voice that narrates your thoughts in your head and internalizes external speech. External speech and internal speech function in the part of the brain that deals with speech called Broca’s area. In his proposal, Vygotsky believed that inner monologue is abbreviated and has omissions. So, if you ever feel like you are having a conversation with yourself or narrating your day-to-day activities, then you probably have an inner monologue.

I narrate daily tasks to myself. This includes doing my makeup like I am a beauty vlogger and, on occasion, it is like I am having a full-on conversation with myself as I think about what I am doing for the day. The worst is when you are trying to go to sleep and your inner monologue will not be quiet. You find yourself thinking about what you had for dinner, that extremely embarrassing memory from high school, or 55,000 other tasks that you have to do the next day!

But if you do not relate to having a voice or internalized speech in your head, your thought process could potentially be more visual than verbal. Visual thinking is common for about 60% of the population. For visual thinkers, images and spatial information dominant their thought process. Visual thinkers often face issues getting their thoughts and images out of their heads. 

However, it turns out it is not actually as simple as having inner speech or not having inner speech, as it states in the tweet above. Some research concludes that most peoples’ thoughts are not strictly verbal thinking or strictly visual thinking. Individuals typically vary between the lines of verbal and visual thought, as both can be highly connected and prompt one anotherThe combination and variants of verbal speech versus visual speech are vast. A person could think verbally 65% of the time and 35% visual. Some individuals never experience verbal thought at all. It all depends on the person!

Here are some reactions from Twitter discussing what inner thought and visual thinking like for different individuals:

I bet you have never thought about the way you think this much before because I certainly have not! You may relate to one more than the other; it is more than okay not to stick yourself into a binary category of the two known modes of thought.  There seems like there is still a lot to learn about inner speech and visual thoughts, but the most important step is realizing others can think and process information differently from yourself.

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  • Tatayana Allen

    Tatayana Allen is a recent college graduate of the University of Virginia. During her time at the university she was a Media Studies major and was in the Cavalier Marching Band. Tatayana loves anything related to fashion, music, and photography.

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