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Rather, he contended, inner speech is profoundly transformed in the process of internalization, and its development involves processes more complex than the mere attenuation of the behavioral components of speaking. Vygotsky saw support for his theory in the phenomenon now known as private speech previously egocentric speech , in which children talk to themselves while engaged in a cognitive task. Vygotsky saw private speech as having a primary role in the self-regulation of cognition and behavior, with the child gradually taking on greater strategic responsibility for activities that previously required the input of an expert other such as a caregiver.

It is also now acknowledged that private speech does not atrophy after the completion of internalization, but can persist into adulthood as a valuable self-regulatory and motivational tool. Vygotsky identified three main semantic transformations accompanying internalization: the predominance of sense over meaning in which personal, private meanings achieve a greater prominence than conventional, public ones ; the process of agglutination the development of hybrid words signifying complex concepts ; and the infusion of sense in which specific elements of inner language become infused with more semantic associations that are present in their conventional meanings.

In this latter form of inner speech, the phonological qualities of the internalized speech are attenuated and the multiple perspectives Fernyhough, , a that constitute the dialogue are manifested simultaneously. Inner speech has also been proposed to have an important role in metacognition, self-awareness, and self-understanding Morin, A second important theoretical perspective concerns the role of inner speech in working memory.

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Baddeley and Hitch proposed that working memory comprised three components: a central executive, responsible for the allocation and management of attentional resources; the phonological sometimes known as the articulatory loop, a slave system responsible for the representation of acoustic, verbal, or phonological information; and a visuospatial scratchpad, a slave system that serves visual and spatial aspects of task-based short-term memory STM.

Baddeley also added a fourth component, the episodic buffer, a multimodal temporary store that can bind concurrent stimuli and draw on information from long-term memory. In this model, the phonological loop is made up of two subcomponents: a passive, phonological store, with a decay time of 1—2 s, and an active rehearsal mechanism that uses offline speech planning processes—in other words, inner speech, or something very similar Baddeley, Support for the independence of a phonological loop from other working memory processes has largely come from evidence of interference effects in dual-task studies.

In such paradigms, participants are asked to encode a set of target stimuli—such as learning a list of words—while engaging in a secondary task which either involves verbal or visuospatial processing. A typical verbal distractor method is articulatory suppression: engaging the articulators in a separate task such as repeating days of the week has been shown to disrupt memory for verbal material in numerous studies e. Evidence of verbal representations in the memory trace comes from common memory effects related to specific verbal and phonological properties. The ability to hold phonological representations in mind, however, appears to come online much earlier, possibly as young as 18 months e.

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To date, there have been few attempts to integrate the Vygotskian and working memory approaches to inner speech although see Al-Namlah et al. The presence of a phonological loop indeed rules out the suggestion that an earlier stage of private speech is necessary for the development of verbal mentation. However, as Al-Namlah, Fernyhough, and Meins point out, this objection misunderstands the Vygotskian position, which prioritizes the question of how language is employed in internal self-regulation above the neural or cognitive substrates that make language use possible.

Put another way, the working memory approach largely confines itself to questions of what inner speech is necessary for i. As a psychological process with no overt behavioral manifestation, inner speech has traditionally been considered difficult or impossible to study empirically. However, recent methodological advances have meant that a range of direct and indirect methods exist for studying inner speech.

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Some methods have been designed to encourage inner speech and examine its effects; some have sought to block or inhibit inner speech and observe which other processes are also impacted. The simplest approach to investigating inner speech is to ask people to report directly on its occurrence.

Such methods are particularly valuable for investigating inner speech frequency, context dependence, and phenomenological properties, although their veridicality has often been questioned for a recent example see Hurlburt et al. Questionnaire approaches to inner speech tend to follow typical steps for scale development. For example, McCarthy-Jones and Fernyhough generated statements about the quality and structure of inner speech and submitted them to exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis in two undergraduate samples, resulting in an item Varieties of Inner Speech Questionnaire VISQ.

Other self-report scales assess features such as inner speech frequency, content, and context e. The virtue of such approaches is that they avoid the need for participants to make a general judgment about the extent and nature of their inner speech, usually asking only about the contents of experience at the moment of a random alert such as a beep.

Some experience sampling techniques will use the same or similar items as questionnaires that ask about inner speech; others have used diary or thought-listing techniques to prompt participants to report on their experience in a more open-ended way e. Other researchers prefer to use detailed introspective interviews as part of their experience sampling approach. One highly developed method, Descriptive Experience Sampling DES , involves training participants to report on their own inner experience in the moment before a random alert, first through making brief notes for themselves and then through a detailed expositional interview.

As will be discussed, using DES to assess inner speech reveals striking phenomenological richness and diversity, which in some cases appears to contradict findings from self-report questionnaires Hurlburt et al. One indirect approach to researching inner speech is through the study of what Vygotsky held to be its observable counterpart, private speech.

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For example, Al-Namlah et al. Such a finding suggests close links between private speech and covert verbal encoding. There are difficulties, however, with taking private speech as a direct proxy for inner speech: for instance, extensive private speech use in some children could reflect a lack of internalized inner speech, while an outwardly silent child could be using inner speech all the time.

Subtle signs of inner speech can also be coded alongside private speech. For example, Fernyhough and Fradley used a coding frame based on Berk, that distinguished between social speech vocalizations during a task that were clearly addressed to someone , private speech nonaddressed overt vocalizations , and task-relevant external manifestations of inner speech indecipherable lip and tongue movements or silent articulatory behavior during a task.

Another indirect methodology that escapes some of these concerns is the use of dual-task designs. The rationale here is that interfering with or blocking inner speech, through a secondary task that prevents subvocal articulation, can be investigated in relation to deficits on a primary task similarly to how such methods are used in working memory studies.

Articulatory suppression to interfere with inner speech on cognitive tasks has been widely used in children and adults Baldo et al. Ideally articulatory suppression is deployed along with an additional condition including a nonverbal task, such as spatial tapping, as this allows investigators to control for general effects of dual-tasking and to identify effects specific to inner speech processes. An alternative method of studying inner speech, which overlaps with methods used in auditory imagery research, is to ask participants to make judgments based on the contents of their inner speech.

Such methods have been argued to provide a more objective test of inner speech use than self-report methods Hubbard, However, it should be noted that judgment tasks of this kind often assume that phonological properties of inner speech are in some way being consulted, rather than the decision being based on other available stimulus information rhyming judgments, for instance, could also be based on orthographic features of word stimuli. Finally, a number of studies have either used functional neuroimaging techniques or neuropsychological case studies to examine the neural substrates of inner speech.

Such studies have been conducted since the earliest days of neuroimaging McGuire et al. Typical inner speech elicitation methods include subvocal articulation of words and sentences or imagining speech with varying characteristics e. Approaches for counteracting this include the administration of behavioral tasks that require internal phonological judgments: asking participants to judge the metric stress of simple words, for example, is thought to require internal inspection of speech Aleman et al. Neuroimaging findings relating to inner speech are considered in Inner Speech in the Brain.

Studying the development of inner speech can give us important information about its phenomenological qualities and psychological functions. The methodological challenges that attend the study of inner speech have led to a focus on its observable developmental precursor, private speech, as a window onto its development. Key questions that have been examined include the emergence and apparent extinction of private speech, the social context within which self-directed speech is observed, and the role of verbal mediation in supporting specific activities.

Much of the prior literature on private speech was outlined in an extensive review by Winsler ; accordingly, this section provides a brief overview of private speech findings in children, with reference to some more recent studies. Private speech has subsequently been shown to have a significant functional role in the self-regulation of cognition and behavior. Typically emerging with the development of expressive language skills around age 2—3, private speech frequently takes the form of an accompaniment to or commentary on an ongoing activity.

A regular occurrence between the ages of 3 and 8, private speech appears to follow a trajectory from overt task-irrelevant speech, to overt task-relevant speech e. Examples of continued use of private speech, however, do not necessarily indicate similar functions or benefits for performance: comparing verbal strategy use on cognitive tasks in children aged 5—17, Winsler and Naglieri showed that 5-year-olds but not older children performed better on tasks when they used more overt speech, even though private speech persisted well beyond this age.

Despite its proposed origins in social interaction Furrow, ; Goudena, , social influences on private speech have not been studied extensively in recent years. In one recent exception, McGonigle-Chalmers, Slater, and Smith studied the extent to which private speech use is moderated by the presence of another person in the room when 3- to 4-year-old children attempted a novel sorting task.

Out-loud commentaries—which typically narrated or explained what was happening during the task—were significantly more prevalent when another person was in the room, suggesting a social, declarative function of private speech. Ratings were also made of incomplete or mumbled speech commentaries, which were suggestive of inner speech being used during the task, but notably these did not change significantly with the presence or absence of another person.

Thus, the production of overt private speech may be socially sensitive while inner speech or more covert processes retain a necessarily private and self-directed role. The social relevance of private speech is also supported by recent research on imaginary companions in childhood.


Children with an IC used significantly more covert private speech during free play than those without an IC, a relation that was evident even when controlling for effects of socioeconomic status, receptive language skill, and total number of utterances. Although a causal direction cannot be specified, these findings suggest that individual differences in creative and imaginative capacities are important to consider in gauging the developmental role of private speech.

It seems likely that private speech is a multifunctional phenomenon; comparisons with the functionality of its putative counterpart, inner speech, are considered below. The effect is typically evidenced when visually presented items that are phonologically similar prove harder to recall than phonologically dissimilar items, due to interference between item words that sound the same.

When children are asked to learn a set of pictures, those aged 7 and over tend to exhibit a phonological similarity effect, suggesting that visual material is being recoded into a verbal form via subvocal rehearsal i. This conclusion has recently been questioned by Jarrold and Citroen who argue that the apparent emergence of the phonological similarity effect at age 7 does not necessarily reflect a qualitative change in strategy. In a study of 5- to 9-year-old children, they tested recall for verbally versus visually presented items, while also varying the mode of response verbal or visual reporting , to examine whether verbal recoding of visually presented items specifically showed a change with age.

While visual encoding plus verbal reporting demonstrated the most prominent phonological similarity effect, interactions between age and similarity were evident in each condition; that is, even when verbally recoded rehearsal was not specifically required.

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In addition, a simulation model indicated that the lack of an effect in younger children could be explained by floor effects in recall for other, dissimilar items to be remembered. Thus, evidence of phonological similarity effects may emerge around age 7 not because of an adoption of rehearsal strategies at this time, but as a result of gradual changes in overall recall skill. Moreover, it highlights the need also considered by Al-Namlah et al.

Most of the work in this area has concerned the role of verbal strategies in supporting complex executive functions such as cognitive flexibility and planning. In general, younger children 3- to 5-year-olds will struggle with tasks requiring a switch between two different response rules, whereas older children will not. Evidence to suggest that this involves verbal processes is provided by reductions in performance on such tasks under articulatory suppression e.

What exactly inner speech is doing to support performance in this way is not always clear: in a review of child and adult switching studies, Cragg and Nation noted that verbalized strategies speed up performance on switch and nonswitch trials but do not necessarily facilitate the act of switching itself. If so, this would suggest that inner speech is helping to maintain a specific response set, or is acting as a reminder of task and response order, rather than being involved in flexible responding per se.

In any case, use of inner speech appears to become a key strategy in switching tasks during childhood, and there is evidence of this strategic use continuing into adulthood e. Research on planning and verbal strategies in childhood has almost exclusively been conducted using tower tasks, such as the Tower of London task Shallice, or the very similar Tower of Hanoi puzzle.

As noted previously, tower tasks require participants to move a set of rings or disks from one arrangement to another across three columns.

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Although fundamentally a visuospatial problem, the number of possible moves to a solution creates a problem-space bigger than visuospatial working memory capacity will typically allow, meaning that verbal strategies often come into play.