Inner Speech: Development, Cognitive Functions, Phenomenology, and Neurobiology

Psychol Bull. 2015 Sep;141(5):931-65. doi: 10.1037/bul0000021. Epub 2015 May 25.


Inner speech-also known as covert speech or verbal thinking-has been implicated in theories of cognitive development, speech monitoring, executive function, and psychopathology. Despite a growing body of knowledge on its phenomenology, development, and function, approaches to the scientific study of inner speech have remained diffuse and largely unintegrated. This review examines prominent theoretical approaches to inner speech and methodological challenges in its study, before reviewing current evidence on inner speech in children and adults from both typical and atypical populations. We conclude by considering prospects for an integrated cognitive science of inner speech, and present a multicomponent model of the phenomenon informed by developmental, cognitive, and psycholinguistic considerations. Despite its variability among individuals and across the life span, inner speech appears to perform significant functions in human cognition, which in some cases reflect its developmental origins and its sharing of resources with other cognitive processes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language Development Disorders / psychology
  • Neurobiology / methods
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology