Mr. Fernyhough presents an insightful contribution to the literature on what is variously called self-talk, covert verbalizations, self-verbalizations, inner voices, or inner speech, and distinguished by the author from the phenomena of “hearing voices.” The work is written from the perspective of a clinical psychologist and researcher possessed of an articulate, lucid, and prosaic writing style. Fernyhough - how I enjoy repeating this interesting name in my mind’s own self-talk – contributes a broad range of anecdotes from troubled patients, creative fiction writers (including himself), observations of his toddler daughter’s behavior and inferred thought processes, historical autobiographical works, the author’s own experiences, and other clinical research studies and experiments. He also cites theory and evidence associating variations of inner voice phenomena and anomalies with specific cognitive processes and particular anatomical features of the human brain. The author underscores the nascence of research into details, mechanisms, and processes of human cognition that attempt to explain the varied types of inner voices.
We gain an appreciation of how many in society stigmatize inner voice hearing, and tendencies to pathologize those who express what most of us consider anomalous experiences. Inner voices may be debilitating for some, merely annoying or neutral/benign for others, or even facilitating as for stimulating the imagination of creative writers. The growing “Hearing Voices Movement” is described as a support initiative and venue for therapeutic sharing. It is stipulated that hearing voices is a normal behavior process, arguably with adaptive value.
The book is a valuable read, although it does not address my particular area of interest which is the role of self-verbalizations or inner speech in the conduct of typical activities of daily living, problem-solving, reflection, analysis, and specifically, its role in the collective conscience manifesting human social institutions such as systems of law. Curious are lack of references to the work of Albert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Theory/Therapy, the ideas of Noam Chomsky relating to “surface” and “deep” layers of cognitive processing, and to the so-called Sapir/Whorf hypothesis. Perhaps the reader would also benefit from further explanation of the tantalizing concepts “theory of mind abilities” (p. 220), “social agent tracking,” “social cognition,” and the “dialogic framework” (p. 236) presented by the author. A final lament, perhaps peculiar to my tastes, is the lack of bottom-of-the-page references – they are all pooled at the end of the book. Those of us who find great value in reading footnotes pay the cost of endless flipping from citation to reference.
I highly recommend this laudable work for those interested in this under-studied area of cognitive science and for researchers endeavoring to make further contributions to the literature on inner voices and both the constructive and apparently potentially destructive, or pathological, effects, associated with their occurrence. I wish I had this book in the early 1980s when writing a graduate thesis (unpublished) pertaining to the effect of self-verbalizations on motor behavior and task performance.