Media Releases

Inner voice plays role in self control

September 21, 2010

TORONTO, ON – Talk­ing to your­self might not be a bad thing, espe­cial­ly when it comes to exer­cis­ing self con­trol.

New research out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough – pub­lished in this month’s edi­tion of Acta Psy­cho­log­i­ca – shows that using your inner voice plays an impor­tant role in con­trol­ling impul­sive behav­iour.

“We give our­selves mes­sages all the time with the intent of con­trol­ling our­selves – whether that’s telling our­selves to keep run­ning when we’re tired, to stop eat­ing even though we want one more slice of cake, or to refrain from blow­ing up on some­one in an argu­ment,” says Alexa Tul­lett, PhD Can­di­date and lead author on the study. “We want­ed to find out whether talk­ing to our­selves in this ‘inner voice’ actu­al­ly helps.”

Tul­lett and Asso­ciate Psy­chol­o­gy Pro­fes­sor Michael Inzlicht, both at UTSC, per­formed a series of self con­trol tests on par­tic­i­pants. In one exam­ple, par­tic­i­pants per­formed a test on a com­put­er. If they saw a par­tic­u­lar sym­bol appear on the screen, they were told to press a but­ton. If they saw a dif­fer­ent sym­bol, they were told to refrain from push­ing the but­ton. The test mea­sures self con­trol because there are more “press” than “don’t press” tri­als, mak­ing press­ing the but­ton an impul­sive response.

The team then includ­ed mea­sures to block par­tic­i­pants from using their “inner voice” while per­form­ing the test, to see if it had an impact on their abil­i­ty to per­form. In order to block their “inner voice,” par­tic­i­pants were told to repeat one word over and over as they per­formed the test. This pre­vent­ed them from talk­ing to them­selves while doing the test.

“Through a series of tests, we found that peo­ple act­ed more impul­sive­ly when they couldn’t use their inner voice or talk them­selves through the tasks,” says Inzlicht. “With­out being able to ver­bal­ize mes­sages to them­selves, they were not able to exer­cise the same amount of self con­trol as when they could talk them­selves through the process.”

“It’s always been known that peo­ple have inter­nal dia­logues with them­selves, but until now, we’ve nev­er known what an impor­tant func­tion they serve,” says Tul­lett. “This study shows that talk­ing to our­selves in this ‘inner voice’ actu­al­ly helps us exer­cise self con­trol and pre­vents us from mak­ing impul­sive deci­sions.”

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For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Alexa Tul­lett
PhD Can­di­date and lead author
Cell: 647–654-0751

Michael Inzlicht
Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor, Psy­chol­o­gy
Cell: 416–820-2395

April Kemick
Media Rela­tions Offi­cer