Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
I didn’t realise I am definitely intelligent, though I thought I was, until today, when I read an article in The daily Telegraph, titled ‘It may sound silly, but talking to yourself is a sign of high intelligence,’ quoting a study by psychologists led by Dr Paloma Mari-Beffa, senior lecturer in neuropsychology and cognitive psychology at Bangor University, Wales, UK.
Not a single day passes without encountering in the daily news, one or more research discoveries of the brain or the mind that make headlines. I often wonder how our brain weighing 1.4 kg, can do such complicated processes and how does it know what it’s doing!
Mari-Beffa (Mari for Mary) is a Welsh surname. Welsh surnames are English first names eg Thomas, Williams, Davies, Evans, Roberts, Lewis, Hughes. I found many Keralite Christians in India have similar surnames, such as Father Williams. The Welsh adopted the English forenames as surnames in the 15th century. They speak Celtic language, and English with an accent. Originally, Welsh speakers occupied most of Britain until they had been pushed into what is now Wales by the Anglo-Saxons.
Bangor University has the most beautiful setting in the whole of the UK. It’s located in North Wales between the snow-capped Snowdon Mountains and shallow Menai Strait (Welsh: Afon Menai) that separates the Anglesey Island.
Dr Mari-Beffa said: “Those who speak to themselves out loud while focussing on a task do better than those who stay quiet. Our ability to generate explicit self-instructions is actually one of the best tools we have for cognitive control, and it works simply better when said loud.” She continued, “And when people read instructions out loud, their brains absorb more information than if they only use their inner dialogue. It may explain why tennis stars including Maria Sharapova (30), and Serena Williams (35) talk to themselves during high stress matches.
Tthe stereotype of the mad scientist talking to themselves, lost in their own, might reflect the reality of a genius who uses all the means at their disposal to increase their brain power.” She and her colleagues gave 28 people a set of written instructions, and asked them to read them either silently or out loud before measuring their concentration and performance. Both improved when the instructions had been read out.”
She concluded: “Our ability to generate explicit self instructions is actually one of the best tools we have for cognitive control, and it simply works better when said aloud. The inner dialogue we keep with ourselves has long been known to be healthy, keeping our minds fit. It helps us organise our thoughts, plan actions, consolidate memory and modulate emotions.”
In another study, psychologist-researchers Gary Lupyan (University of Wisconsin- Madison) and Daniel Swigley (University of Pennsylvania) conducted series of experiments to discover whether talking to oneself can help when searching for particular objects. 20 volunteers were shown objects, in a supermarket, and were asked to remember them. Half of them were told to repeat the objects eg banana, and the other half remained silent. The end result was that self-directed speech-aided people can find the objects faster, by 50 to 1000 milliseconds, compared to the silent ones.
They have given the reasons: (1) when you are talking to yourselves, your sensory mechanism get activated. It stimulates your memory since you can visualise the word, and you can act accordingly; (2) when you are saying it loud, you stay focused on your task, and it helps you to recognise the stuff immediately, provided you know what the object you are searching for looks like, eg you know a banana is yellow in colour and its shape. So when you are saying it loud, your brain immediately pictures the image on your mind. But if you don’t know how a banana looks like there is no effect of saying it loud; and (3) it helps you clarify your thoughts and firm up any decisions you are contemplating.
Most of us talk silently. This has been a human mind activity noticed since the dawn of psychology as a scientific discipline. Languages are the hallmark of modern humans. How much of the mind we can actually speak out relates to the mind of the individual itself.
I’ve been in the habit of reading books aloud all my life, and speaking to myself just audibly, later in my life. My wife thought I am odd, a polished word for being crazy, which I countered saying “sometimes I want to talk to someone who is as intelligent as me”. Now, scientists say, “Don’t get embarrassed admitting it because those who talk to themselves are actually geniuses.”
Talking out loud, is more common than you and I care to admit. There is no shame to it. Psychologists call it “self talk”. It’s quite beneficial to the talker as you will see later. Talking to yourself for moments is opening up the whole of your mind communicating your experience inside with outside. You know what you are thinking and so you know what you are. “I think, therefore I am” (cognito ergo sum) – Rene Descartes. While talking to myself I can hear my thoughts loud and clear. I know exactly what I am doing.
I talk to myself a lot at home since I started writing columns for The Sangai Express. Sometimes, at supermarkets, I often find I am talking to myself. Then I look around to see if anybody is in hearing distance. Rarely none. Good relief. My wife knows I’m not loopy but others don’t. While my wife is searching for items she wants to buy from the shelves I think out loud about my article back home on the computer.
When I type on my computer I mutter to myself. This keeps my mind focussed on the job I am doing, filtering stray thoughts like, when was the last time I was Timbuktu. The result inevitably, is a better finish. Please don’t take my word for it. I’m going to cite specialists for whatever they are worth.
I used to read in my boyhood days about the difference between a mad man and a genius, which is a hairbreadth. Now, scientists in Hungary, have found out a gene called neuregulin 1 that plays a role in developing a bright brain, while its variant is associated with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. As a doctor I know schizophrenics (mad men) talk aloud, answering to their inner voices.
On the need for more refined approach to its argument-adjunct distinction, I believe poetry is an open expression of the thoughts and emotions of poets – a literary expression of the human mind.
Rabindranath Tagore (1961-1941), a Pirali Bengali Brahmin, one of the greatest Indians, burst his mind aloud in Gitanjali (song of offerings), for which he was awarded Nobel Prize in literature in 1913.
His citation reads: “The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Rabindranath Tagore because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.” Tagore wrote the poem originally as “Pratharna” (prayer) to free his country from British rule.
Like Tagore, Virginal Woolf (1882-1941), the greatest English feminist and an avant-garde intellectual, spoke her “feminine mind” out loud at lectures she gave to undergraduate female students in English literature, at two women’s colleges at Cambridge in 1928. In her ‘A Room of One’s Own’ about ‘Women and Fiction’, she let the world know what she really felt about the fiction men write about women.
In my experience, male and female minds don’t function equally. It was true at the time when Woolf wrote her novels. It’s still true. Many women, some of them more intelligent than me, often have difficulty in sorting out logical problems in an argument. I now know why. Though a new study finds that human brains do not fit neatly into male and female categories, there are a number of structural differences between them. To begin with, men have slightly bigger brains (8%) than women.
A recent study, completed in December 2013 on nearly 1,000 brain scans, has confirmed that male and female brains differ in structure. Male brains are connected more within the hemisphere, while female brains are more connected across the left and the right hemispheres. The Corpus callosum that connect the two hemispheres is larger in women, and they are thus, easily able to transfer data from right to left. Females have larger and deeper limbic system than males, and so they are more in touch with their feelings, and can express them better.
Men’s brains perform tasks predominantly on the left hemisphere that is the seat of logical thinking. Men thus, do better on more specific spatial thinking ie problem solving, and pattern processing. By the latter, I mean men have more advantage with “conceptual thinking”, which is an act of reasoning in decision-making, while women perform better at situational thinking ie arriving at judgments that deal with situations.
I wondered if Einstein talked out loud! Yes he did, though famously, he didn’t talk until about four years of age. Once he started talking, he often muttered sentences to himself.
(The writer is based in the UK. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.drimsingh.co.uk)
Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh