Voices In Your Head

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Health - BY CLAIRE NOWAK

WHAT’S THE DIF­FER­ENCE be­tween talk­ing aloud and the voices in your head? Not much, ac­cord­ing to your brain. De­spite the so­cial taboo, it isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing to hear voices in your head. In fact, we hear voices every day when we read books, men­tally plan out our sched­ules and de­bate over what we should wear.

Al­though talk­ing in our heads and talk­ing out loud are no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent to us, our brains per­ceive them as ba­si­cally the same ac­tion.

“The re­sults of our study in­di­cate that our brain does not make a fun­da­men­tal dis­tinc­tion be­tween

the voices we hear in our head and the voice that comes out of our mouth,” says study au­thor Thomas Whit­ford, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the School of Psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of New South Wales.

How is this pos­si­ble? When we speak, the brain in­structs the vo­cal chords, tongue and lips how to move to pro­duce the cor­rect sounds. It also makes a copy of that in­struc­tion, what’s called an ‘ef­fer­ence copy’. This copy lets the brain pre­dict what sounds it is about to hear. When our voice matches our pre­dic­tions, the brain re­duces its sen­sory re­sponse be­cause it al­ready knew what was go­ing to hap­pen. “We found that when peo­ple pro­duced in­ner speech, this was as­so­ci­ated with an ef­fer­ence copy, in just the same way that overt speech is known to be as­so­ci­ated with an ef­fer­ence copy,” says As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Whit­ford.

So, as you’re read­ing this ar­ti­cle to your­self, you can ‘hear’ it thanks to the same pro­cesses that al­low you to talk out loud.

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