October 28, 2020

Is Non-Verbal Thinking Real?

Emilee Claffey ‘22 - Staff Reporter

Twitter user @KylePlantEmoji wrote on Jan 27, 2020: “Fun fact: some people have an internal narrative and some don’t. As in, some people’s thoughts are like sentences they “hear”, and some people just have abstract non-verbal thoughts, and have to consciously verbalize them. And most people aren’t aware of the other type of person.” 

This tweet went viral with 26k retweets and 168k likes because it made people take a second to rethink the way they think and consider how they fit into one of these two groups: either the internal narrative or abstract thinker. At first read, it feels like the dress meme of 2015 all over again. The internet went crazy over whether you saw a black and blue dress or white and gold dress, and people would laugh or become frustrated if you didn’t see what they demanded was the correct answer. Even though this was a case of illusion, it still provoked the idea that people and their brains are unique.  

I am coming from the perspective of having a constant verbal dialogue rolling in my head, which almost always feels like I have the characters from Inside Out in my brain helping me put visible words to my feelings. Since I will probably never be able to know what it’s like to not have an internal dialogue in my head, it makes me wonder how the alternative is possible. Is non-verbal thinking really real? How does it work?

Non-verbal thoughts consist of images, scenarios, events, etc. While searching the internet, it seems like this is the norm for most people while an internal narrative that invokes your phonological and speech centers occurs less frequently; some even say it’s rare. Studies focusing on ‘inner speech’ have been conducted since the 1930s, but it speaks to the environment of our modern world that a short tweet, blasted into the social media universe can stir up so much discussion on a long and well debated topic. 

Curits Reisinger, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist at Northwell Health on Long Island argues, “I think a lot of people have both… It goes well beyond two types.” From my own observations, I think in most cases this is true. God created human beings with the capacity for complex thought unlike any other creature and even though each of us is blessed with a specific gifting and a distinct personality, there are things we all share and things we will never understand or be able to explore beyond just scratching the surface.  

After diving into many an article on this topic, I have come to discover something new about myself and my fellow human beings. I am grateful to be in the know about this lively dialogue, especially since I am not a member of the Twitter club. In all, I conclude that non-verbal is indeed very possible and very real based on swaths of compelling evidence, but I am still in awe and I think going forward I will make an effort to ask people which camp they belong in, or if they turn out to belong to both.

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