You don’t always know what you’re saying

If you think you know what you just said, think again. People can be tricked into believing they have just said something they did not, researchers report this week.

The dominant model of how speech works is that it is planned in advance — speakers begin with a conscious idea of exactly what they are going to say. But some researchers think that speech is not entirely planned, and that people know what they are saying in part through hearing themselves speak.

So cognitive scientist Andreas Lind and his colleagues at Lund University in Sweden wanted to see what would happen if someone said one word, but heard themselves saying another. “If we use auditory feedback to compare what we say with a well-specified intention, then any mismatch should be quickly detected,” he says. “But if the feedback is instead a powerful factor in a dynamic, interpretative process, then the manipulation could go undetected.”

via You don’t always know what you’re saying : Nature News & Comment.

This actually doesn’t surprise me too much.  In normal everyday life, most of us have had the experience of hearing ourselves say something surprising, perhaps something we wished we hadn’t said.  It’s not much of a leap to believe we said what we hear, even if someone has switched it on us.

I’ve noticed that I rarely have my words consciously planned out in the seconds before I speak, at least in most casual conversations.  It’s like I’m thinking out loud.  I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard.

Many people have speculated that consciousness actually depends on language.  That without language, we can’t have higher order thinking.  I don’t believe that, but I do think language likely changes our thoughts in a substantial manner, adding a structure that maybe wouldn’t exist without it.  We tend to think in our native language and I’ve heard that people who were raised bilingual tend to think differently from those of us raised in only one language.

Similar to the split-brain patient experiments, this is another aspect of the fact that we are not one unitary whole, but a collection of processes and modules that work together, not always through communication within the brain, but sometimes through what we hear ourselves say, or what we see ourselves do.  And that consciousness is more often an after the fact model of what happened, rather than a controller.

5 thoughts on “You don’t always know what you’re saying

  1. Hence the often unvoiced question *Oops – did I say that out loud?* perhaps?

    That caught my eye the other night as I’m just getting into, somewhat by accident, cognitive linguistics via Lakoff/Johnson’s ‘Philosophy in the Flesh’, which seems a furtherance of their ideas presented in ‘Metaphors We Live By’ which I may have to go back and read or at least read about.

    At this point about all I can say is that it sounds pretty fundamental to human experience, thought, and behavior. From the little I’ve read “adding a structure that maybe wouldn’t exist without it” sounds along the lines of Lakoff/Johnson’s thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This doesn’t surprise me either. Ever since I started reading your blog, I have been much more cognizant of the weakness of my own brain, especially memory. I started to notice a few months ago how words I remember saying seem to shift around in my memory, at least compared to how other people remember what I said or compared to notes I wrote down at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

Your thoughts?

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.