As it turns out, not everyone hears an internal narrative of everything picked up by their five senses.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 5, 2020. It has since been updated.
What's the longest conversation you've ever had? For many of us, it's the one we've been having with ourselves since the time our brains developed enough to frame thoughts. You know, that constant inner monologue in your head that delivers its take on everything picked up by your five senses. A nasty stench suddenly wafts in through the window. "What's dead and rotting in here?" my inner voice notes. "Your sense of humor, probably," the voice immediately follows up. It's annoying, it's sassy, it's unrelenting but to be fair, it's also my best friend. Weird, I know, but we all have it. Or so I thought.
As it turns out, not everyone hears an internal narrative of everything happening at any given moment. Twitter user KylePlantEmoji pointed out this fact in a tweet that reads: "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." Apparently, they were right on the money about inner monologue folks not being aware of the other kind and vice versa.
Twitter was shaken by KylePlantEmoji's fun fact and pretty much had a collective "My whole life is a lie" moment. Kathryn Foxfield tweeted: "So not everyone has a voice inside their head that never, ever shuts up? My internal narrative and I find this almost impossible to comprehend." Another Twitter user, howd9rk, commented: "Wait so some people don't have to suffer through the voice in their head going on a constant monologue?? Is that what it means to achieve inner peace?? The voice in my head is ADHD and on crack and it's ruining my life.
my thoughts are def the abstract ones. if they contain words, it's more or less just fragments & not complete sentences until they're coming out. i think it's why i stumble over my words so often, stutter, always 5 levels ahead of whatever I'm actually saying, rambling, etc— human capote🕷️ (@shelbzazaaz) January 27, 2020
I have sent this tweet to so many people today to find out how they think. This is fascinating. I really want to know the science behind this now. Is it developmental, genetic, does anybody know?— Paula Ersly (@paulasrsly) January 27, 2020
Me and my significant other are one of each (and both know it). And my parents were one of each (and both knew it). And I think about that a lot (I'm the sentences thinker).— Jessamyn West (@jessamyn) January 29, 2020
Representing the "no inner monologue community", JeannaLStars tweeted: "I'm sitting here trying to imagine what hearing your own voice in your head constantly narrating your every waking moment feels like and I'm so fucking glad my mind doesn't do this." Meanwhile, Twitter user pleasepeehere seemed to regret not having a constant voice whispering in their head and commented: "I've always been jealous of people who can hear their thoughts. Verbalizing abstract thoughts is so hard and makes me feel dumb. It's a skill you have to learn." WitchyTwitchy tweeted: "This is so wild to me I can't imagine thinking in actual sentences and hearing an internal monologue. People really think in sentences????"
Let's try:— Nopety nope (@LJDEM) January 27, 2020
Definitely the former. I can happily listen and even converse with my own thoughts. How on earth otherwise do you come to any decisions?— Lord Arse! (@Lord_Arse) January 28, 2020
My internal Board of Directors, Conscience Inc,really enjoys multitasking. Like I can be listening to an audiobook and scrolling a website AT THE SAME TIME. It was my mother who pointed this out. My internal voice read the words as the book played the words. My brain said: Roger. pic.twitter.com/mXZNsAmbo0— You Don't Have The Range (@SceneByAshlix) February 4, 2020
As for what experts have to say about this phenomenon, psychologist Russell T Hurlburt stated in Psychology Today that he believes "inner speech is a robust phenomenon" and not a universal one. Elaborating his point, he noted: "I'm confident about the individual differences—some people talk to themselves a lot, some never, some occasionally." Imagine that! What about you? Do you have an inner voice repeatedly chanting "wtf" in your head right now? Yeah, same.