Research Topic

Inner Experiences: Theory, Measurement, Frequency, Content, and Functions

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One fundamental topic of scientific inquiry in psychology is the study of what William James called the “stream of consciousness”, our ongoing experience of the world and ourselves from within—our inner experiences. These internal states (aka “stimulus-independent thoughts”) include inner speech, mental ...

One fundamental topic of scientific inquiry in psychology is the study of what William James called the “stream of consciousness”, our ongoing experience of the world and ourselves from within—our inner experiences. These internal states (aka “stimulus-independent thoughts”) include inner speech, mental imagery, feelings, sensory awareness, internally produced sounds or music, unsymbolized thinking, and mentalizing (thinking about others' mental states). They may occur automatically during mind-wandering (daydreaming) and resting-state episodes, and may focus on one's past, present, or future (“mental time travel”--e.g., autonoetic consciousness). Inner experiences also may take the form of intrusive or ruminative thoughts.

The types, characteristics, frequency, content, and functions of inner experiences have been studied using a variety of traditional methods, among which questionnaires, thought listing procedures (i.e., open-ended self-reports), thinking aloud techniques, and daily dairies. Another approach, articulatory suppression, consists in blocking participants' use of verbal thinking while completing a given task; deficits indicate that inner speech plays a causal role in normal task completion. Various thought sampling approaches have also been developed in an effort to gather more ecologically valid data. Previous thought sampling studies have relied on beepers that signal participants to report aspects of their inner experiences at random intervals. More recent studies are exploiting smartphone technology to easily and reliably probe randomly occurring inner experiences in large samples of participants.

These various measures have allowed researchers to learn some fundamental facts about inner experiences. To illustrate, it is becoming increasingly clear that prospection (future-oriented thinking) greatly depends on access to autobiographical memory (past-oriented thinking), where recollection of past scenes is used as a template to formulate plausible future scenarios.

The main goal of the present Frontiers Research Topic is to offer a scientific platform for the dissemination of current high-quality research pertaining to inner experiences. Although data on all forms of inner experiences are welcome, reports on recent advances in inner speech research are particularly encouraged. Examples of acceptable themes are: (1) description and validation of new scales, inventories, questionnaires measuring any form of inner experience; (2) novel uses or improvements of existing measures of inner experiences—e.g., think aloud technique; (3) development of new smartphone technology facilitating or broadening the use of cell phones to sample inner experiences; (4) frequency, content, and functions of various inner experiences—e.g., inner speech and mental imagery in everyday life (including past- and future-oriented thinking) as well as during episodes of rest and mind wandering; (5) naturally occurring mentalizing (Theory-of-Mind); (6) relationships between mindfulness, mental time travel, mind wandering, and the resting state; (7) abnormal manifestations of inner experiences—e.g., auditory hallucinations, thought deficits, or rumination in specific clinical populations (e.g., autism, schizophrenia, depression); (8) correlations between personality or cognitive variables and any aspects of inner experiences; (9) philosophical or theoretical considerations pertaining to inner experiences; (10) inner experience changes with age; (11) cultural differences in inner experiences; (12) inner experiences in altered states of mind and religious states; (13) inner experiences in infants and non human animals.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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