I've recently experienced a number of hypnogogic near sleep states characterized by change in thinking (stage 1-2 sleep). I noticed that if I let go and get absorbed in the state, I can follow it.

I can describe the hypnogogic sensation as a feeling of empty space without a definite boundary. Typically the state arises at 17-23 minutes after bedtime (I'm using a timer to check). However, as soon as I activate "inner voice" or think a thought spoken in that voice, those other near sleep states get completely suppressed. Literally, a single word disrupts these states.

This makes me interested what happens in the brain when a person thinks using a single threaded, spoken train of thought? ("I'm typing a question on cogsci right now" or "I'm reading a question right now") Is there some part of the brain that gets activated while others get suppressed? In particular I'm interested why spoken thought suppresses other non-verbal states that a brain can consciously experience?

Internal monologue, also known as inner voice, internal speech, or verbal stream of consciousness is thinking in words. It also refers to the semi-constant internal monologue one has with oneself at a conscious or semi-conscious level.

It would be interesting to know if there's some difference that fMRI can show between a brain that's reading using voice and brain that's reading non-verbally.

I recall reading about similar phenomenon in the eastern spiritual traditions, like Taoism or Buddhism, where the states of mind they are trying to achieve are also incompatible with inner voice.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd just like to argue with the inner voice being the only one. This might sound like some metaphysic crap, but if you turn that main voice down you might notice other's saying things like "So I'm actually not thinking.". This happens almost immediately ruining your effort as the main voice gets pissed and starts talking again. Also not all things that alter your inner reasoning are plain emotions. Watch yourself and you'll notice that sometimes you jump over a thought like someone in background has spoken the missing sentence. $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2014 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ I see your objection to the single treaded nature of the voice. In this case, it is the verbal content of these thoughts that matters. Your example of "I'm not thinking right now" disrupts the states I describe just as well. $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Nov 25, 2014 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Related: cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/15327/… $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Sep 13, 2017 at 17:59

2 Answers 2


Preliminary answer I intend to improve later. Stumbled upon this in the context of description of how people read:

According to this paper on readin (Sousa, 2005), novice readers internally verbalize written words of English and German using "an area of the brain just above and behind Wernicke's area". This area then communicates with the Broca's area and the frontal lobe.

Found this additional article which mentions that people use the same area of the brain when reading silently as when listening actively.


Verbalizing out loud is a technique that is actually very useful. Once this begins (out loud, I'm not sure about in your head) the amygdala gets slower and the prefrontal cortex lights up.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting, could you add a citation for this assertion? $\endgroup$
    – Krysta
    Dec 12, 2014 at 20:08

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