Reading: like talking to yourself, but without the looming insanity


Once again, it’s a rainy, rainy Friday.  I innocently went into a bookstore yesterday, intending to pick up a copy of Anna Karenina. But I somehow walked out with a collector’s set of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a lengthy bit of Gogol as well (THERE WAS A SALE, OK?) – so my weekend plans are looking something like this:


Not to mention, this is my last weekend before I’m back to university, so I should probably take all the unfettered and guilt-free reading time I can get. I don’t know about you, but after finishing a book I find myself thinking about alternate conversations with characters or the writer…pretty frequently.  Which might seem crazy, but it’s not.  Why? SCIENCE, THAT’S WHY.

According to a recent study, reading (silently) produces the same effects in the brain as actually hearing speech.  This idea delights me.  It’s a gorgeous, and most importantly, SCIENCY way to explain the level of engagement that comes with a good book.  Not to mention a nice way to make me feel less crazy for getting so involved with a great narrative voice.

My background in neurolinguistics is not strong enough to explain this perfectly, and someone has already done a brilliant job over at Neurotic Physiology – I highly recommend you go have a read, the article is really interesting.

I also love the assertion that we all spend most of our days covertly muttering to ourselves anyway – and if reading produces a speech like reaction in our brain, does that mean that our internal chatter counts as real conversation too?  If that’s the case, then there’s definitely room for further work on how internal speech can affect our psychological state.  Self-help books and counselors (I’m looking at you, Dr. Phil) often say that our internal monologue can be incredibly damaging. Although it’s a bit of a stretch, extrapolating from this study does tentatively indicate this might be the case.  Obviously further study is necessary; one piece of research does not a conclusion make.  

Advances in neurology are so exciting!  We’re slowly acquiring the tools to test and study intangible phenomenon which is beyond awesome.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sean O'Neill says:

    An interesting sidebar to this is that for those interested in the practice of speed reading, what they call sub-vocalisation, or hearing the words as you read is sometimes discouraged. I wonder what the impact of that would be then on the readers comprehension.

    1. JenLaneulie says:

      Oh that is an interesting point! I think that regardless of whether or not subvocalisation is present, the same areas of the brain would be activated – but I’m not sure how it would impact comprehension or even memory.

  2. Oldkingcurry says:

    I know what you mean about having imaginary conversations with the writer after finishing a book. (And not just writers, but all kinds of people.) Sometimes I get annoyed with my co-workers for talking to me because they interrupt the conversation I’m having inside my head — which is usually much more interesting.

  3. Wow, that really was an interesting an article. I guess that makes sense. I’ve heard the hypothesis that thought is not possible without language (any sort of language, as long there are sound/symbols to represent words). It’s hard to imagine what thinking would be like without words/language.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s