Social Science

Say What?

Talking to yourself has cognitive benefits, a UW study finds.

Caught talking to yourself in the cereal aisle?

Shrug off those sideways glances from your fellow shoppers. They’re just not as efficient at filling their carts, according to research from Gary Lupyan, a UW assistant professor of psychology. His study, published this spring in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, revealed an advantage in speed and accuracy for people who repeat the word for an object while they search for it.

“Even though people get embarrassed about talking to themselves — and even though they may not be doing it consciously — there’s a benefit, a cognitive advantage to it,” Lupyan says.

While hunting for a particular item — say, a banana — in a field of pictures of all sorts of different objects, the people who repeated banana to themselves had a fifty- to one-hundred-millisecond advantage (in searches about a second long) over their silent peers.

“Part of knowing what a word means is being able to picture the thing the word represents,” Lupyan says. “Actually saying banana makes you picture a banana, and that may make you faster in finding and identifying a banana.”

But getting chatty with yourself won’t always help, especially if you’re looking for an item that doesn’t closely match the mental picture you’ve paired with a word.

“The flip side is, if you’re repeating banana, you might actually overlook a brown banana or half a banana,” Lupyan says, “because they aren’t as typical of the connection you have between language and object.”

Published in the Fall 2012 issue


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