Whistler's Mutter

Offers the views of researcher Thomas Brinthaupt who contends that it is unusual not to talk to yourself. How self-talk serves as a means of self-regulation; Inner speech and vocalized private speech; Negative and positive aspects of self-talk.

By Christine Cauchon, published on September 1, 1994 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

You're giving an important speech. Suddenly you hear yourself saying, "Now, where was I?" You have just engaged in self-talk and probably not for the first time. Nor are you alone.

According to Thomas Brinthaupt, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University, almost everybody talks to themselves. And no--we are not all crazy. It is unusual not to talk to yourself.

Self-talk serves a very important purpose. It is a means of self-regulation.

There are two kinds of self-talk: silent inner speech, when you think to yourself, "I've got to remember to go to the bank," and vocalized private speech, when you mumble a reminder to yourself. Self-talk can be used to remind people to run errands, prepare for speeches, or work through the steps of a process.

Depending on your level of self-esteem, self-talk can be either positive or negative. Folks who suffer from low self-esteem spend more time planning and going over what was already said. For those with higher self-esteem, self-talk is more positive and congratulatory. They are not preoccupied with thinking about what they should have said.

Brinthaupt asked students to describe verbatim what their reactions would be after taking an extremely important test when they were: positive they had passed with flying colors, positive they had failed, or unsure of how they had performed. As suspected,;. students unsure of their performance did the most self-talking. Next were those who thought they had failed. Students who thought they had passed did the least of the self-talking.

Intense and difficult tasks, such as working at the computer or preparing for speeches, and uncertainty bring out the self-talk in all of us. And we like to do it most in bed, in the car, or in front of a mirror.

One interesting discovery: Whistlers are more inclined to self-talk than non-whistlers. Brinthaupt is exploring whether self-talk is also particularly likely among folks who talk and sing aloud to themselves. And some people, like perfectionists and athletes, not only talk to themselves--they yell.

When to worry? When self-talk occurs outside of socially acceptable situations.