Can Deaf People Hear Their Thoughts? These Facts Will Shock You

By Alex Chu •  Updated: 08/24/23 •  5 min read

Nearly everyone carries on an internal monologue in their mind. Some researchers refer to this as a person’s conscience, while others refer to it as an inner voice. Many people, including the deaf and hard of hearing, experience this inner monologue differently. While deaf people can’t hear their thoughts, they think in other forms of communication. Learn how their thought processes differ and why.

Deaf people hear their own thoughts differently

People Vary in Mind Expressions

The conscience doesn’t only govern right or wrong. It offers each of us a way to remember things, like picking up a quart of milk on the way home. Some individuals use their inner self to consider major life decisions, such as quitting one job to take another.

Each person experiences this inner monologue or dialogue differently. Depending on the person, they experience this inner conversation as:

This inner thought process may include people thinking to themselves things like, “You need milk.” It could also include the individual picturing picking up a quart of milk.

How Deaf and Hard of Hearing People Experience Inner Conversations

Those who cannot hear at all or experience some hearing loss do not differ from the hearing in this aspect. Some researchers think that how they experience their conscience differs depending on their level of hearing and speech. Those individuals who have some hearing, like the hard of hearing, may experience a voice in their heads, but those profoundly deaf from birth typically experience sign language, lip-reading, or mind pictures. However, many hearing individuals also experience their conscience or inner monologue as pictures or a film.

How the Deaf Community Helps Neuroscientists Understand Human Brains

Members of the deaf community who contributed their own experiences to neurological research in this area led to a new understanding of how the human brain works. As it turns out, if a person’s method of exterior communication changes, so does their internal method. For example, one man who speaks and lip-reads learned sign language as an adult, and his mind experience changed from voice and lip-reading to sign.

What If You Experience More Than One Voice?

Some individuals experience a dialogue. One research participant explained that she experienced a boisterous Italian couple. This confounds her since she has no Italian heritage or real-life context for this couple. When she has a major life decision to make, the husband takes one side, the wife takes the other side, and they argue until she comes to a decision and acts upon it.
Experiencing more than one voice of an inner conscience does not indicate any sort of abnormality. Many people experience an inner voice that sounds like either parent. On a chilly day, when a person thinks, “Don’t forget your sweater,” it may take the form of their mother’s or father’s voice. That falls into the realm of perfectly normal.

Imagining the Future as You Want It

Another common mind voice or mind picture situation involves an individual picturing their future as they want it to occur. College professors who frequently present research at conferences practice their presentations in their heads before giving the speech using voice or sign language in front of colleagues. They may also practice it in front of a mirror at home.

Another example of putting your mind’s voice or mind picture show to work is through the visioning process. Perhaps you want to purchase a home. A hard-of-hearing person who hears their own voice in their head might practice the conversation that would occur when they pick up their keys at their home closing. A deaf person who uses mind pictures might pose for a photo in front of their new house or play a mind film of move-in day.

The Difference Between an Inner Conscience and Mental Illness

You might wonder how any doctor can tell the difference between a person’s inner monologue and mental illness since schizophrenics hear voices and see others who are not actually in the same physical space. Schizophrenics do not know that the voices they hear and the people they see aren’t actually present.

Most people know that their inner communication amounts to just that. They hear a voice in their head and know that it only resides in their own mind.

A person who explains that they’re repeating “milk, eggs, bread,” so they do not forget to pick those things up simply verbalizes their “inner voice” to reinforce remembering what they need at the store. If you ask whom someone was talking with a moment ago, and they wonder where the individual went, swearing that there was another person present, although there wasn’t, that indicates a potential mental illness. As long as you know that you only speak with yourself, you have no cause to worry.

The Sound of Mind Silence

Finally, very few individuals experience nothing. They can blank their minds totally, thinking of nothing. No stray thoughts creep in, either. These individuals do not experience any inner conversation or pictures, whether hearing or deaf. According to the few discovered among the research participants, they sleep very well since they never have trouble corralling their thoughts as some individuals with anxiety do.

Which Type of Thinker Are You?

Now that you know that any experience from your mother’s voice to that of actor Tom Hanks or lip-reading to signing indicates a perfectly normal experience, which do you experience? It may be fun to ask your deaf and hard-of-hearing friends at your next get-together what they experience. Expect a variety of answers, each perfectly normal.

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