Earlier this year, a lot of people were surprised to discover that some people don't have an internal monologue, while those people who don't were surprised to learn other people do. Having only ever lived in your own head, it's pretty weird to discover that other people think differently than you do.
For instance, I assumed that everyone else had an internal monologue, and like mine, that monologue is voiced by Patrick Stewart. To think that some people don't have a monologue portrayed by Captain Pickard was weird enough, without discovering that they hear nothing at all.
Shortly after everyone discovered the other group of thinkers exist, people started to explain to each other what their method of thinking is like, and how the other one is plain weird. In one Reddit thread, user Vadermaulkylo posted, "Today, I told my mom that I have no internal monologue and she stared at me like I have three heads. Is having one common?" They confessed they had thought it was a fictional concept made up as a narrative device in the TV show Dexter (about a surprisingly teary psychopath).
What it's like not to have a monologue
After people had called the poor Redditor a non-playable character enough times to get it out of their systems, several people (including the OP) described what it's actually like to not have an internal monologue.
“So if your boss asks you to do something right at the point you were planning to leave work you don’t think ‘oh f***ing s**t b*lls what a pain? in your head, while saying ‘No problem at all boss,’ out loud?” one user asked.
“No. Never had that," Vadermaulkylo responded. "If I’m asked to do something I don’t wanna do, I just get kinda frustrated but that’s about it. I don’t really think to myself.”
Others confirmed their experience was similar.
"I’m the same way," said user GohanShmohan. "I don’t have any conscious thought about what I’m feeling, or any stream of dialogue describing it to myself. I just feel it. It’s like the inner dialogue is the middle man in my head, who just isn’t there."
For others, it was a bit more complicated.
"I don't have a inner monologue either. Any time I have to communicate outside my head with words, I have to "translate" what I'm thinking. That takes time and effort. It's why I vastly prefer written communication over verbal, since you can take more time than the instant response a verbal conversation requires," Redditor BobbitWormJoe wrote.
"When I know I will need to verbally communicate (such as if I need to make a phone call or bring up a topic at a meeting), I prepare mentally as much as possible so I know what words I actually need to say. On the other hand, if I'm in a conversation where I haven't had time to organize and translate my thoughts ahead of time, I constantly have long pauses where I'm doing it in real time, which comes off as weird to people who notice it. This annoyed my wife for a long time until we both realized why it was happening."
Asked if they ever got songs stuck in their head, Vadermaulkylo replied: "Actually that’s probably the closest thing I have to one. Currently got a couple songs from that new Lil Wayne album in my head. I read stuff in my head too of course."
What it's like to have a monologue
"Thoughts are words," user merewautt wrote. "I can't imagine a thought not as a verbal construction. All my thoughts are colored by the physical parts of different emotions, but they're all words. I can imagine being physically angry for a moment without verbally thinking it (my heart would be racing, maybe my shoulders shake, muscles tense up, etc) but I can't imagine being aware of any of my physical emotions without thoughts as language. My internal monologue while my body was having the physical anger response would be (inner monologue in parenthesis):
(Oh f this b***h, she's being such a hypocrite) -out loud- YOU'RE BEING A F***ING HYPOCRITE, (she's gonna say it's not the same because----) IT'S NOT THE SAME AND YOU KNOW IT."
Many people agreed feeling the emotion of being angry went hand in hand with an internal monologue of ranting and quite a lot of swearing, and couldn't imagine just feeling a physical response to an emotion without a constant stream of thoughts as words to articulate it to themselves. Merewautt pointed out this is how Freudian slips happen, when you aren't planning to say something out loud, but you're thinking it and "lose the filter" on your inner monologue.
Others asked whether people with monologues walk around narrating their lives like Bridgette Jones, which, to be honest, kind of.
What does the science say?
In scientific studies, it seems people experience more of a mix than the self-selected responders to a viral post that implied it was either/or.
A small study in 2011 tried to get a better picture of how people think. They gave beepers to a random sample of students. When the beeper went off, they had to note down what was going on inside their heads moments before it went off. This went on for several weeks, to get them used to it and then to get an accurate picture of what was happening inside their minds.
"Subjects experienced themselves as inwardly talking to themselves in 26 percent of all samples," the team wrote in Psychology Today. "But there were large individual differences: some subjects never experienced inner speech; other subjects experienced inner speech in as many as 75 percent of their samples. The median percentage across subjects was 20 percent.
"Some people talk to themselves a lot, some never, some occasionally."