Self-regulating the sense of agency over inner speech
By Michael Lifshitz, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University
We all hear voices in our heads all of the time. We talk to ourselves, we imagine others talking to us—this is just the basic human faculty of inner speech. What’s more unusual, however, is to have the sense that the voice in your head is really coming from another being outside of you. We tend to think of this kind of “not-me” voice experience as pathological, psychotic, or delusional. However, some healthy people specifically train their minds to surrender the feeling of agency over their own inner speech. In this talk I will outline my upcoming postdoctoral project (in collaboration with Prof. Tanya Luhrmann) to investigate the cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms underlying healthy voice hearing experiences. We will study two populations: (1) evangelical Christians, who learn to hear the voice of God and feel the holy spirit take over their speech during prayer (i.e., speaking in tongues), and (2) tulpamancers, who cultivate friendly verbal dialogues in their heads with imaginal beings whom they call “tulpas”, or thought-forms. I will describe our proposed research plan (including cognitive tasks, fMRI procedures, and phenomenological interviews) with the goal of soliciting feedback from the audience to optimize our experimental design. I very much look forward to your input.