There is little research conducted concerning inner monologues, as humans do not yet fully understand how our brain works. (Photo Credits: Alexa Fredericks/Achona Online/Piktochart)
There is little research conducted concerning inner monologues, as humans do not yet fully understand how our brain works.

Photo Credits: Alexa Fredericks/Achona Online/Piktochart

The Way You Think: How Your Inner Experience Works in the Classroom

February 6, 2020

Remember the last time you read a story and think of how you interpreted it. Not just of the way you read the story, but how it was presented in your mind, visualized through scenes or words – scenes and landscapes evoked by a story’s vivid imagery: Standing barefoot, toes brushed with light whips of sand, intruding on the dissolving sun, it’s red and purple rays screaming as it refuses to give over to the icy still waters stroked with the moon’s pale reflection. 

While some can visualize such a scene, feel the lukewarm breeze on their face, and taste the lightly salted air, others cannot

Psychologists have known about the presence of inner monologues and visualization for years. In a college study, psychologists Chris Heavey and Russell T Hurlburt found that, on average, both inner speech and inner seeing was only conducted in a quarter of the sample subjects. Some subjects never experience inner speech, while some conducted inner speech throughout the day. 

However, there is dispute among the psychological community about just how aware human beings are of this inner speech. Although some people are aware that they can or cannot talk to themselves, psychologists argue that all humans conduct inner speech, whether they are conscious of it or not. Bernard Baars, a leading researcher in conscious science, states, “Human beings talk to themselves every moment of the waking day. Most readers of this sentence are doing it now. It becomes a little clearer with difficult-to-say words, like ‘infundibulum’ or ‘methylparaben’. In fact, we talk to ourselves during dreams, and there is even evidence for inner speech during deep sleep, the most unconscious state we normally encounter.” 

Regarding visual thinking, linguist John McWhorter claims, “When we utter a word, we cannot help but mentally see an image of its written version. In our heads, what we have said is that particular sequence of written symbols. When we say “dog,” a little picture of that word flashes through our minds, Sesame Street-style.” 

Although there is bias in the scientists’ statements, as Baas can conduct inner speech and McWhorter can visualize words instead of scenes, their statements prove that there is disparity among all people and the way they think and interpret works. The territory of inner experience remains largely unstudied, but there are still conditions like Aphantasia that can be identified, wherein one does not possess a functioning mind’s eye and cannot voluntarily visualize imagery.

The common theme among all scientific studies of the inner experience is that there is no “normal” inner experience and there is no way to know what kind of inner experience every individual has. Different inner experiences do not alter the way someone lives, but how they interpret information. This provokes the question of the effects of the various inner experiences in the classroom. 

“It is so important when you are younger to be exposed to reading because it gives you the opportunity to listen to works and picture them in your head what is being said. As a[n elementary school] teacher, taking notes and reading, we would discuss it, we would read it, we would write it, we would do something with it – covering all the styles.” said religion teacher Kimberly Wiley. 

When it comes to the classroom experience, it is difficult to understand how different types of thinking affect one’s learning ability or presence in the classroom. 

Do you have an inner monologue?

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Thinking styles are not the same as learning styles. When a child starts to attend school, they are exposed to many different kinds of learning techniques and have the opportunity to root themselves with the one(s) they are most successful at. Thinking styles are different. Thinking styles are determined at birth; a person cannot learn to visualize or learn to use their inner monologue as they can learn to listen or take notes during class. A student may be criticized for reading text aloud and categorized as an auditory learner, when they truly cannot comprehend the story silently, as they are a verbal thinker. As children, we learn to adapt to our thinking methods (i.e. the child that read text to themselves may just silently move their lips to the words) and write it off as our way of comprehending life, distinct from the school-implemented honing of learning style skills.

Science teacher Judy Perella said, “Teachers need to be aware of these things so that we can differentiate how we teach so that they can be accommodated. No style is better than the other – students need to be aware of their styles and teachers need to be aware of the different styles that are in the room at any given time for any given subject.” 

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