The Influence of Inner Speech on Object Recognition


  • Ivana Dragonová University of Vienna


Inner representations vary greatly among individuals, encompassing visual, orthographic, and verbal elements to various extents. In this study, we focus on verbal representations – on inner speech, i.e. on silent speech directed towards one’s self. The experience and propensity of this phenomenon vary among individuals, but there is evidence that this embodied phenomenon influences a range of cognitive tasks [1]. 

In this study, done as a part of a larger project conducted by the author's supervisor, we explore the influence of inner speech on object recognition. There is evidence that covert language information impacts non-communicative functions, such as categorization or object recognition (for a review, see [2]). This raises the question whether inner speech might have similar effects, but only a few studies have investigated this topic in depth.

Collecting data from a sample of 109 healthy native German-speaking adults aged 18-37, we attempt to gain insights into the question of inner speech and object recognition. In the experimental setup we largely follow the approach from [3]. First, we assess individual participants‘ propensity for internal verbal representations using the Inner Representations Questionnaire (IRQ) developed in [3] and translated from the original English language into German (by the project’s supervisor). Then, based on their IRQ scores, participants with particularly high or particularly low propensity for inner speech (above 75th or below 25th percentile, respectively) complete a word-picture verification task, which is an object recognition test. The task consists of 8 blocks of 80 trials, where the participant indicates whether the presented word and the subsequently presented picture (or in the reverse order) match. The word-picture pairs vary on the levels of semantic, phonological, and orthographic similarity. We measure the reply accuracy and speed.

We predict that participants scoring high on the IRQ are faster to activate phonological representations upon seeing the picture stimuli, therefore performing well on pairs with high semantic and orthographic similarity, but not on those with high phonological similarity. This is because the phonological activation evoked by the picture is expected to interfere with the read word. [3] had a similar hypothesis, but the results were mixed. Therefore, we aim to explore this relationship further to gain a better understanding of the inner speech’s propensity’s impact.

This study aims to contribute to the understanding of inner speech's impact on cognition, specifically object recognition and categorization. To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore this topic among German speakers, providing insights into the validity of previous findings.


[1] C. Fernyhough, and A.M. Borghi, “Inner speech as language process and cognitive tool“, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 27(12), pp. 1180–1193, 2023.

[2] B. Alderson-Day, and C. Fernyhough, “Inner speech: Development, cognitive functions, phenomenology, and neurobiology.“ Psychological Bulletin, 141(5), 931–965.

[3] H. Roebuck, and G. Lupyan, “The Internal Representations Questionnaire: Measuring modes of thinking.“ Behavior Research Methods, 52(5), 2053–2070, 2020.