I know the title seems insane, and this is most likely impossible, but is there a mental illness that almost stops a person from thinking? By thinking I mean the "talking in your head" thing. I'm not looking for a mental illness that makes them unconscious, but rather a mental illness that keeps them conscious and almost stops them from thinking. I have been saying this a few times, but I feel like it's false, since thinking is a person can't stop thinking if they are alive and conscious(right?). A more realistic question is: "is there a mental illness that causes one's thinking abilities to severely decline?"

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    $\begingroup$ I once heard this phrase: "Habit kills thinking." $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2020 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE. What makes you think there may be a mental illness which can make you stop thinking or severely decline to near non-existence? What have you read on the subject? $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2020 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know, I tried researching it and I guess I googled it in a certain way that it showed me results. When I tried googling it again it didn't show anything. Either way, being a science enthusiast, it seems a bit insane saying people can get a mental disease that almost completely hinders them from thinking. I really only joined Psychology SE to ask this question (probably not the best idea), but I want to get answers. Like I said, maybe a better question would be is there a mental illness that hinders/deranges your thoughts. $\endgroup$
    – Reality
    Nov 17, 2020 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ It might depend on what theories of consciousness you subscribe to, but I think for most you will not be able to separate "thinking" from "consciousness". If one is conscious they are by some definition thinking. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 18, 2020 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ That's the answer I wanted. Yeah, that would make sense. I am by no means a psychologist, so I don't know all the facts, but I can see the point of "if one is conscious they are by some definition thinking". $\endgroup$
    – Reality
    Nov 18, 2020 at 16:13

3 Answers 3


Thinking is mainly supported by the frontal lobes (although the ARAS – the Ascending Reticular Activating System – is essential for its arousal and other cortical areas are essential for its sensory inputs and other associative functions, such as language, spatial orientation, and emotion, which are closely associated with thinking). So, anything that affects the frontal lobes can affect the thinking.

But frontal lobes never stops function if one is still conscious – neurons in the frontal lobes will keep firing as long as there’s a stimulation from the ARAS. So, to literally stop thinking (or all neurons in the frontal lobes stop firing) in still-conscious people is impossible.

However, frontal lobes can be interfered to the degree that the thinking is significantly impaired or retarded and the person seems to stop thinking. This can happen in a varieties of conditions, such as:

Psychological: severe emotional overload (e.g., by a sudden loss of something so precious, an unexpected devastating event, or an overwhelming rage), schizophrenia in some stages (e.g. catatonic stage), severe depression

Pharmacological: overdosage of antipsychotic, sedative, or other psychoactive drugs


  • all metalbolic derangements (hypoglycemia, hyponatremia, hypercalcemia, etc.)
  • some medical conditions (hypothyroidism, hypocorticolism, hypothermia, etc.)
  • frontal lobes disorders: frontal lobe tumor, infarction, hemorrhage, encephalits, dementing diseases
  • other causes: post- cerebral contusion, post-ictal stage

At some stages of the above conditions, either before the patients lapse into coma or after they emerge from coma, the patients will appear dazed, muted, unable to think, and unable to respond. That is, apparently, they seem to stop thinking in these conditions.


  1. Wikipedia. Frontal lobe

  2. WebMD. What Is Encephalopathy?

  3. Roger F Butterworth. Chapter 38. Metabolic Encephalopathies. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition.

  4. Wikipedia. [Delirium](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delirium

  • $\begingroup$ Are you saying that thinking is centred within the whole of the frontal lobes or is it in a part of the frontal lobes, say the prefrontal cortex? $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2020 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers No, I didn't try to be specific because which exact part of the brain does the thinking is not the question here, so I just say that "thinking is mainly supported by the frontal lobes" for the op to get a general idea. As I've pointed out - ARAS and other parts of the brain (including even the cerebellum, as shown by current evidence) take part in the complex process of thinking too. But, if you want to be more specific about where in the frontal lobe the thinking mainly occurs, I agree with your hint that it is mainly in the prefrontal cortex. $\endgroup$
    – user287279
    Nov 17, 2020 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say restricting "thinking" to the frontal lobes or even PFC is...controversial, at best. Clearly, brain damage elsewhere (whether permanent by lesion or temporarily induced by seizure, TMS, or brain cooling) impacts cognition. There are certainly theories of cognition/consciousness in which PFC plays a central role, but the evidence for these is lacking. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 18, 2020 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause I think we're saying the same thing here. Thinking function is not restricted to the frontal lobes/PFC. That's why I mention other cortical areas and even the cerebellum in the answer and comment above. But to say that every part of the brain participates in thinking (or any other particular function) equally is obviously wrong. The brain hasn't evolved that way. It has evolved to have specific areas for specific functions. $\endgroup$
    – user287279
    Nov 18, 2020 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ And for thinking, it’s evident that the frontal lobe plays the major role in this function. For example, clinically, for the same size lesions, a large tumor, hemorrhage, contusion, etc. in the frontal lobe affects thinking more than when they are in the occipital, parietal, temporal, cerebellum, or elsewhere in the brain. $\endgroup$
    – user287279
    Nov 18, 2020 at 17:24

Thought blocking is a common phenomenon in schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. The patient experience a short stopping of all thoughts, they report that all thoughts disappear for a short while (seconds, rarely more than 20-30 seconds or so in my experience). This has been described in the psychopathological literature at least since the publication of Fish's Clinical Psychopathology in 1967, but presumably a lot earlier.

I'm not aware of other psychiatric or otherwise pathological conditions in which patients remain conscious and report the loss of thoughts. There are some conditions, as listed by user287279 above, and while it's plausible that there might be a loss of verbal thinking in severe cases of some of them, I have never heard patients report this, neither during the condition nor after recovery.


Well, dementia.

Consciousness is mostly affective. Affective consciousness and emotional response (albeit changed) is preserved in dementia. Cognitive tasks progressively become nearly impossible. Thoughts, if they arise, become unpronounceable or impossible to communicate. In other psychiatric disorders that disrupt thinking - such as major psychoses - some kind of thinking is preserved, even grandiose or very persecutory delusions have some internal logic and mostly can be communicated.

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    $\begingroup$ So, essentially, thinking cannot be stopped, but thinking can become so deranged that it is meaningless? $\endgroup$
    – Reality
    Nov 16, 2020 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ I am having a problem with this answer where I believe that dementia does not stop you from thinking at all, and the thoughts do not become unpronounceable or impossible to communicate. Cognitive tasks become impossible? Hmmm. Can you please provide some reputable citations to back your claims? $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2020 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ Dear Chris, please provide some reputable citations that back your claim instead. $\endgroup$
    – r0berts
    Nov 17, 2020 at 18:31

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