Wait, Not Everyone Has An Internal Monologue?

In the box-office hit "What Women Want," Mel Gibson's character magically gains the strange ability to hear women's thoughts. He hears the random thoughts of women he passes on the street. He even hears the thoughts of his dates and his fed-up co-workers. If you've ever seen this rom-com, you might have paused and questioned how it was possible that these people were all thinking thoughts that flowed in coherent and logical sentences that had a beginning, middle, and end. Perhaps that's because you don't have thought patterns like that.


Many people say they have an internal monologue that narrates in their head what they're reading. But others also think a stream of conscious thoughts throughout the day — as if they're speaking to themselves. But other people say their thoughts don't manifest this way. New research suggests that some people don't have an internal monologue at all! Rather, they think in images or abstract concepts. If that's you, you might be flummoxed to learn that what you experience is not a universal one. Here's what we know about how internal monologues work!

If you don't have an inner monologue, you probably have sensory awareness

University of Nevada psychology professor Russell Hurlburt has spent 40 years studying the idea of an "inner monologue." Still, science isn't 100% sure how many people on Earth have one. But he does know that there are different modes of "thinking" that people experience. He told CBC News that while some people do chatter on to themselves (mentally or vocally), others have "sensory awareness" — meaning they visualize their thoughts. He estimates that an "inner monologue" only occurs for 30-50% of the population.


Hurlburt also spoke to Newsweek, stating, "If by 'internal monologue' you mean a fairly constant inner narration, lots of people think they experience internal monologue; far fewer people actually experience internal monologue." The researcher stressed that there is no good or bad way to think. He explained to the CBC that those with an inner monologue are great at problem-solving and logic, while those with a visual style of thinking might be synesthetic. "People who see visual imagery very often see imagery that doesn't exist in the real world," Hulburt told the outlet. "People who are given credit for being imaginative probably don't have much of an inner monologue."

Often our inner monologue can cause mental anguish

Many people reading this are already well aware of their inner monologue because their inner voice contains intrusive thoughts. People who have depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder often have a running narrative in their head — ruminating on past events, controlling their emotions, and sending them into a spiral (via Psychology Today).


Thankfully, there are ways to recognize and stop triggering thoughts. Psychologist Ethan Kross, who wrote the book "Chatter: The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It," told The Guardian that traditional therapy or meditation isn't the solution to an overly-critical and negative inner monologue because focusing on the internal can make the intrusive thoughts louder and more powerful. Instead, Kross suggests engaging in hobbies to benefit your mental health and quiet the voices — like giving and receiving hugs or engaging in activities that induce wonder and "awe." Journaling helps, too! He also suggests "compensatory control," something Marie Kondo fans already know well — it's the joy of tidying up!


While an internal monologue is a common experience for many people, it is not a universal one. The way people think varies widely based on their individual experiences, cognitive styles, and other factors. However, if you find your internal monologue controlling your life, it might be time to seek care.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.