I was in the supermarket buying a couple of items for dinner when a young man walked past me talking to himself about the fact it was too early to go to bed. It was 5 p.m. It was evident as he traversed his way through to the checkout, that sadly he did have some disordered thinking.
But does muttering under your breath have to mean you may have a form of mental disorder? Absolutely not.
Young children often talk to themselves as a way of guiding their behaviour. They may be having conversations with imaginary friends in make-believe, or they are talk to themselves as if recalling previous instructions, such as when undertaking a newly acquired skill such as tying shoe-laces.
In fact research has shown that pre-schoolers do better on motor tasks when they talk out loud to themselves, than when they remain silent!
As adults we frequently mutter to ourselves, though our response if noticed by others is to apologise as if we have been caught doing something, which could possibly be construed as being just a little weird. Perhaps we need to be a little more gentle to ourselves.
So why do we mutter?
Quite often it is when we are trying to locate something, such as a particular sweater in the wardrobe, or a particular tool from the tool kit in the garage or even the jar of mayonnaise in the fridge.
A study in the U.S. was undertaken to discover whether talking to ourselves when we are looking for something makes any difference to help us to find it and the results indicated that yes it does.
So next time you are in the supermarket and you hear someone going “Tea-bags, Tea-bags, Tea-bags,” it’s just their way of using their brain to locate the Tea bags more quickly.
Gary Lupyan, Daniel Swingley. Self-directed speech affects visual search performance. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2011; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2011.647039