8 Working Memory: Private Speech and Other Performatory Vehicles of Thought

Language and inner speech are central to our commonsense ideas about consciousness. And in current cognitive theory, working memory often plays a central role as a system that maintains information--often in linguistic form--so that it can be used to accomplish cognitive tasks. Limits on working memory are thus a major constraint on the coordinative modes that we can adopt in performing mental routines. In this chapter, I examine these topics from the vantage point of the experienced cognition framework.

Most individuals would agree that their conscious experience very often includes a kind of internal monologue, and the ability to report experience in verbal form is often taken as a mark of its conscious status (e.g., Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). It seems that language has a special status with respect to consciousness, and many cognitive scientists have argued that language ability is supported by specialized cognitive modules. The supposed specialness and at least partially innate character, of language is almost a dogma of linguistics and psycholinguistics, although some cognitive theorists (e.g., J. R. Anderson, 1983; Newell, 1990) have argued that language can be understood in the same theoretical terms used to describe cognition generally. Some theorists (e.g., Whorf, 1956) have argued that language strongly shapes thought. Most cognitive scientists do not support a strong version of this linguistic relativity hypothesis ( Scholnick & Hall, 1991). However, it is clear that language (or "verbal coding") accompanies much cognitive activity, and Hunt and Agnoli ( 1991) summarized the evidence that language does shape thinking in some respects. It thus seems clear that private speech is one important medium of cognitive activity.

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