Can we think without using language?
Humans have been expressing thoughts with language for tens (or perhaps hundreds) of thousands of years. It’s a hallmark of our species — so much so that scientists once speculated that the capacity for language was the key difference between us and other animals. And we’ve been wondering about each other’s thoughts for as long as we could talk about them.
“The ‘penny for your thoughts’ kind of question is, I think, as old as humanity,” Russell Hurlburt, a research psychologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who studies how people formulate thoughts, told Live Science. But how do scientists study the relationship between thought and language? And is it possible to think without words?
The answer, surprisingly, is yes, several decades of research has found. Hurlburt’s studies, for instance, have shown that some people do not have an inner monologue — meaning they don’t talk to themselves in their heads, Live Science previously reported. And other research shows that people don’t use the language regions of their brain when working on wordless logic problems.