Only 30–50% of People Have an Internal Monologue. Is It Really Possible for People to Not Have an Internal Monologue?

Emily Alexandra
4 min readAug 8, 2023
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Have you ever had a conversation with yourself inside your head? The most common answer on this website would probably be “Yes, of course.” because Medium.com is a writing website. It’s common for writers and artists to have conversations with themselves. I should know because I sometimes have conversations with myself. They’re called internal monologues.

However, did you know that 30 to 50% of people don’t have internal monologues? As in they don’t have conversations with themselves in their heads? And as someone who internalizes her dialogue like a protagonist in a YA novel, this fact absolutely baffles me. Ever since I first heard this fact, it made me question this:

Is it really possible for people to not have an internal monologue?

Think of the last book you’ve read that was in first-person perspective. Chances are that it’s full of internal monologuing, which makes sense because we (the readers) need to know what’s going on in the story. But of course, real life is not like a book. Take a look at the statistic I put in the title of this article. How is that possible? Is it even possible? If so, then that explains a lot about the world we’re in today.

So, how do we develop an inner monologue? It all starts in childhood. When we develop language skills at that stage of life, we use our voices for performing different tasks. Then, this inner voice can manifest via an imaginary friend, which is common among children.

Then, once we grow up, this inner voice becomes a core part of our cognitive process, like supporting a working memory. This is how we complete everyday tasks and keep track of other plans we have. Some of us even use this inner voice for self-reflection.

But again, not everyone has an inner monologue. Russell Hurlburt, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, has claimed that only half of the population (US or worldwide I don’t know) has conversations with themselves in their heads. Apparently, this is normal (though I will probably never understand how that’s possible).

How is it possible to not have an inner monologue? While most people don’t have the exact reason, there’s some research claiming a correlation between dorsal pathway maturation and the early development of internal speech.

Our brains have two language tracks that help form sounds — dorsal and verbal streams. The dorsal stream leads to the inner voice’s development and has been discovered to develop more slowly in early childhood compared to the verbal one. Therefore, one reason why some people may not develop inner monologues might be because of different individual experiences.

For example, perhaps a deaf person can’t hear their own conversations in their head, but they might still be able to picture things, like a to-do list. In that case, that makes a lot of sense to me.

However, there are some people without inner monologues who also can’t form pictures in their heads, either. These people have both anaduralia and aphantasia. What are these two? Well, anaduralia is the inability to form an inner voice, while aphantasia is the inability to form pictures in your head.

What does aphantasia have to do with lacking an inner voice? Some say these two might be correlated because those who can’t form images in their heads might not take part in self-talk, either. Some self-reported surveys confirm the claim that those with aphantasia don’t talk to themselves. However, this claim can’t be entirely confirmed since there’s no official scientific research backing it up.

One woman named Olivia Rivera claims to not have an inner monologue. According to an interview with CBC of Canada, Rivera had always thought that the inner voice was something made up in entertainment medias like the TV show Lizzie McGuire. So, what’s life like for her?

When I have an anxiety attack, my anxiety manifests in repetitive, dreadful thoughts. When Rivera has an anxiety attack, her anxiety manifests in a more physical way. When she’s late, she’s not thinking that she’s late and that she needs to stop sleeping in. Often, she thinks in a visual way.

Now, is it possible for people who lack inner monologues to also not have any sounds in their head? No, not necessarily. While not everyone has an inner monologue, we all do experience corollary discharge.

For those who don’t know, corollary discharge is a copy of a motor command sent to the muscles to make a movement. It doesn’t produce a movement itself, but it directs other regions of the brain to inform of the impending movement. The corollary discharge plays an important role in our auditory systems by helping us process hearing voices.

What does this have anything to do with an inner monologue? Many people in the scientific community consider the corollary discharge a brain signal that controls inner voices. This signal then differentiates our internal and external experiences.

In layman’s terms, the corollary discharge helps us determine whether we’re feeling something inside our bodies or feeling something on our body’s surface. The signal’s also why our voices sound different on recording compared to our inner voice.

Besides the corollary discharge, it’s possible for people without inner monologues to have songs stuck in their heads. For example, Rivera has pop songs “pop” into her head, but she only hears it in the singer’s voice. In contrast, when I get a song stuck in my head, I can hear in many singers’ voices.

So, despite my initial skepticism, it’s apparently possible for people to live without inner monologues. They just happen to think in a more blatant version compared to those of us who do have inner monologues. Also, like I’ve said before, it does explain a lot about the current world today.

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Emily Alexandra

Just some autistic person wanting to write and write. I also like to draw and have a cat and dog that are my life. I publish on 8th, 18th, and 28th every month.