As I walk up on my friend, I catch them midsentence. I have no idea what they’re saying. But it’s evident that they’re not talking to me. And it’s also clear that they’re not on the phone.
Instead, they’re hunched over their laptop, solving what seems to be a complicated problem. Designing a project.
“Oh, sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
They flush. “God, I’m so embarrassed. You caught me talking to myself.”
“It’s okay,” I say. “I do it all the time.” Because frankly, I do. Especially if I’m working on something complex. Drawing up a plan with multiple parts. Or trying to work out a tricky edit for writing.
“You don’t have to say that just to make me feel better,” my friend says.
“I’m not,” I say. “There’s a lot of times when I talk to myself. And it’s actually not unusual at all. It’s something that pretty much everyone does at one time or another.”
I talk to them about the work of Vygotsky, the developmental psychologist who found this phenomenon in children starting at around age 2. Vygotsky called the act of talking to yourself “private speech.” It’s also been known as self-talk and sometimes as egocentric speech (by Piaget, who cast a bit of side eye at it, thinking it was inherently inferior, immature behavior; well, side eye right back you, Piaget).
In Vygotsky’s work, he found that by the age of 7, most children had worked out the ability to internalize that speech. They didn’t necessarily have to talk to themselves anymore… but does that mean that they don’t?
Nope, later researchers found out that it’s entirely common for adults to talk to themselves on occasion. Essentially, there are a number of perfectly healthy reasons why an adult could talk to themselves. For example:
- They are “thinking aloud,” particularly when working through a complicated problem that extensively taxes mental resources
- For self-expression and emotional release in situations where they don’t necessarily need a supportive listener or ones in which it would cause problems
- As a way of exploring creative alternatives, as adding an auditory component to brainstorming can result in different outputs
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.