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The Voices Inside You

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Where would we be without the voices in our heads? To get at this question, Charles Fernyhough raises another: can children think before they have words? According to Fernyhough, a Russian psychologist named Lev Vygotsky developed a theory about how the words and voices we hear as kids turn from speech outside our heads, to speech inside our heads... and help steer our reasoning and decision-making.

But, of course, not all the voices echoing inside our skulls are friendly helpers. Claude Steele describes how big an impact negative inner voices can have when we're stressed, and just how powerful words and stereotypes can be.

Read more:

Charles Fernyhough, A Thousand Days of Wonder

Comments [9]

Per Fagereng from Portland, Oregon

An early memory: I am about a year old, sitting in a high chair in the kitchen while my mother feeds me. Two other people are also there and they are making noises at me. I remember thinking that they are trying to communicate, but I don't know their language.

Nov. 06 2016 06:20 PM
Dru from usa

I agree with many of the other comments that thinking doesn't depend on a lexical language. Conveying thoughts to others might, but that's a separate issue. Thoughts and thinking, to me, are emotionally imbued internal visual sequences. Film-makers can convey thoughts solely through the editing of visual images, with absolutely no words whatsoever. Maybe, Charles Fernyhough meant that until a child can internalize their native lexical language, no communication can be conveyed, therefore no thoughts can be expressed, therefore no thoughts are overtly present. He might want to revise his model of thinking. I contend that he might be missing a great deal of communicative information if he solely relies on verbal conveyance.

Jul. 18 2015 05:52 PM
Jane Maiello from California

I am the mother of 3 girls . Watching and teaching them as they were growing, I think it is so important to read to your kids so they learn to love reading and experience love at the same time.

Oct. 29 2014 12:32 PM
Ellen Thompson from Hanover , PA

Children with significant hearing loss and no signed language input lag behind hearing peers for just this reason: language is vital to thinking and if this sense is neglected they miss out on the interactions which foster thought.

Oct. 28 2014 03:40 PM
Lemory from Lincoln, MA

what is the name of the musician how can hear 4 symphonies simultaneously? it was hard to catch the name but fascinating neurology

Oct. 25 2014 04:09 PM
Mike from Detroit

I just started listening to this segment on inner voices.

But I cannot buy the idea that thought is derived from language. What about animals that learn on their own to use tools.

That is an example of logical reasoning thought developed by animals that cannot speak so how do they accomplish it???????

Oct. 24 2014 02:12 PM
Sherry Henry

I recently watched a PBS documentary that showed research involving children too young to communicate verbally (8-10 months old). These children watched puppets in a small scene where one puppet was kind and helpful and the 2nd puppet was aggressive and not at all helpful. After the scene, the children were given a choice between taking the nice or the aggressive puppet and most of the children chose the nice puppet. The research demonstrated that even pre-verbal children can think things through and make decisions based on the info presented to them. In my opinion, this negates the thought that pre-verbal children "have no thoughts".

Aug. 22 2014 09:22 AM
bathrobe gin from berkeley

Perhaps if you had a less judgmental linguistic frame of reference you wouldn't consider things with which you disagree ludicrous or asinine.

Jul. 15 2013 11:34 PM

This is asinine.

We have two boys. I experienced something remarkable from both.

The Elder developed his own language when he was an infant. I was able to recognize / learn about twenty concepts he would communicate.

Certain sound patterns were easy for me to recognize. He would link them in different ways to communicate ideas. When I would switch a 'sound sequence', he would correct me (and often get upset).

He continued to develop normally and started speaking our language (English) in a timely manner.

I noticed similar behavior in our neighbor's kids. Well, the youngest.

This researcher implies that small children do not think because they do not know the language of their parents (yet) is ludicrous.

Jun. 29 2013 03:09 PM

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