Have you ever been in a situation… where you’re watching a tired TV format talent show on a Saturday night?
…If so, here’s some reassurance (albeit tenuous) that there are intellectual nuggets of science that can be sieved from even the most banal of TV dross…
People often talk to themselves — most do so at least every few days and many report doing so on an hourly basis. Although such muttering might seem irrational, past research has shown that self-directed speech can help guide children's behaviour - taking themselves step-by-step through tasks such as tying their shoelaces, as if reminding themselves to focus on the job at hand.
Psychologists Gary Lupyan and Daniel Swingley conducted a series of experiments to investigate if talking to yourself can help when searching for particular objects. The studies were inspired by observations that people often audibly mutter to themselves when trying to find things, such as items on a shopping list in the supermarket, or recipe ingredients in the fridge.
In their experiment, participants were shown 20 pictures of various objects and asked to find a particular one. In one arm of the trial participants saw a text label telling them what object they should find: "Please search for the teapot." In the other, the same subjects were asked to search again while actually say the word to themselves. It was found that speaking to themselves helped people find the objects more quickly.
In a follow-up experiment, participants performed a virtual shopping task in which they saw photographs of items commonly found on supermarket shelves and were asked to find, as quickly as possible, all the instances of a particular item. For example, participants would be asked to find all the bags of apples, or all the bottles of Diet Coke. Here, too, there was an advantage to speaking the name of the object when participants were looking for very familiar products.
"The general take-home point is that language is not just a system of communication, but it can also augment perception, augment thinking," Lupyan said. “Future work can scan the brain at the same time as these experiments are conducted, to see what brain circuits are involved”, he suggested.
Right then… found my keys, but where’s me phone?