I am 42 and doing software developer since 20 years.

Since several years I know that talking about a problem helps.

If I can't find a an easy solution myself I talk to a team mate or ask at a site like stackoverflow.

Often it is enough to speak about it (or write the question). If I do this, I often find the solution myself.

I would like to find a matching term (from psychology or neuroscience) for this.

Question: How do you call this?

If you have links to related studies, please leave a comment. Thank you.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This isn't the answer i don't think, but i know what you're talking about - i believe it has something to do with the concept of the logos itself. That is to say, writing or speaking something out exposes it for deeper high-resolution analysis by the rest of the brain, as though it were an object in the world. Whereas simply using your imagination alone to host the problem and analyze it potentially cuts it off from other problem-solving faculties of the brain. $\endgroup$
    – Logan
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know if there is an actual name for it, but there is an idiom often heard which is "a problem shared is a problem halved" $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ Generally writing a problem down in a form good comprehensible enough for someone to answer is good initial step in solving it. On the level of anecdotal evidence it's easy to find support for what I said e.g. phils-career-blog.com/2012/01/problem-definition I don't know if there are any systematic studies of this. Supposedly it's part of the "Feynman algorithm": wiki.c2.com/?FeynmanAlgorithm LOL. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ Supposedly it's because writing it down makes you understand it better. Polya's Principles start with "Make sure you understand the problem" instead. cs.yale.edu/homes/aspnes/pinewiki/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ Is this question related to Is there a name for “loopback teaching” technique (explaining something to yourself to learn it)? $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 17:20

3 Answers 3


I can think two reasons why talking about a problem helps :

  • Explaining your knowledge can reveal gaps and bugs

The following extract is from the book Smart Thinking by Art Markman :

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  • Talking about a problem changes its mental representation

Our mental representation is the ideas, concepts, stories, theories, and skills that make up how we internalize something in our mind. Gardner writes:

“Generically, mind change entails the alteration of mental representations. All of us develop mental representations quite readily from the beginning of life. Many such representations are serviceable, some have notable charm, others are misleading or flatly wrong. Mental representations have a content: we think of these contents as ideas, concepts, skills, stories, or full-fledged theories (explanations of the world). These contents can be expressed in words — and in a book, that medium is customarily used. However, nearly all contents can be expressed in a variety of forms, media, symbol systems: these systems can be exhibited publicly as marks on a page and can also be internalized in a ‘language of the mind’ or a particular ‘intelligence.’”

The mere fact of trying to formulate our thinking into speech, changes its representation (see this article).


Well, first of all, let's briefly discuss the process of thinking.

Lone, silent thinking is the internalization of words taught to you at a very young age. Clinical literature suggests that if you miss learning period you cannot learn it anymore. Feral Child Wikipedia

Speculation: Based on this, I strongly believe that understanding words and speaking came earlier in our evolutionary process than thinking. This posits the idea that we're better at discussing things in social settings than thinking them internally.

Now, writing obviously came later than understanding words, speaking words and thinking, however, it is a bit different than thinking. When you are writing you externalize something within and actually look at it, which entirely changes the perception of the subject.

Also, to further my point. As I mentioned above, thinking is the internalization of a conversation and it is really hard to think properly because it requires you to activate different parts of your personality that can actually argue/communicate as you would in a normal conversation. Technically speaking in order to think properly you need to create a cognitive dissonance otherwise it is going to be confirmation bias.

It's also useful to bring in terms such as subconscious and conscious. Carl Jung thought that those two exist 'in different dimensions'. You can attribute symbolic and metaphorical aspects of your psyche to the subconscious, while the verbal aspect of your mind is conscious. In other words, there is a difference between unarticulated and articulated knowledge.

Unarticulated knowledge is somewhat subconscious, so you do not have full access to it, however, if you manage to articulate it - you gain full access. Thinking is a quick process and thoughts might slip away while writing is slower and you actually perceive, correct yourself and rectify the issues as you go through. (Same applies to the communication except there are two or more heads instead of one.)


I found this related Wikipedia article:


Rubber duck debugging

In software engineering, rubber duck debugging or rubber ducking is a method of debugging code. The name is a reference to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer in which a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and debug their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck.[1] Many other terms exist for this technique, often involving different inanimate objects.

Many programmers have had the experience of explaining a problem to someone else, possibly even to someone who knows nothing about programming, and then hitting upon the solution in the process of explaining the problem. In describing what the code is supposed to do and observing what it actually does, any incongruity between these two becomes apparent. More generally, teaching a subject forces its evaluation from different perspectives and can provide a deeper understanding. By using an inanimate object, the programmer can try to accomplish this without having to interrupt anyone else.

  • $\begingroup$ This is exactly what I wrote to you as a comment to your question when you first asked it. :) It is a comment (I suggest you include it in your question even, instead). This does not constitute an answer (based in Psychology or Neuroscience) on this site. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris yes, you are right. I am sorry. I have not seen it. I just came across this term some days ago and wanted to improve this here. $\endgroup$
    – guettli
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 7:35
  • $\begingroup$ You can, by improving/editing your question. This is more relevant in your question than your personal background you start of with (it shows this is not anecdotal, but a widespread observation), for example (one of the reasons I did not up vote the question). $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 10:01

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