If you’ve ever caught yourself repeating the name of an item you’re trying to find (on a shelf at the grocery store, for example), recent research shows that “self-directed speech” really does help you locate the item.
In the first two experiments, students were presented with a grouping of objects on a computer screen and asked to find and click on a specific one. Half of the time the participants were asked to say the name of the object when the name appeared on the screen, the other half of the time they were instructed to read the name but stay silent.
The results showed speaking the name of the target item either immediately before searching for it or continuously while searching led to significantly faster and more accurate results.
In the third experiment, another set of college students were presented with photographs of familiar products like Pop-Tarts, Raisin Bran, Tylenol and Jell-o on supermarket shelves. Similar to the first two experiments, the students we asked to locate a specific item (or multiple instances of the same item) on a shelf, either while silent or while repeating the name of the item to themselves as they searched.
The results from the third experiment showed a similar level of improvement in speed when participants spoke the name of the item aloud as they searched, but also revealed an interesting gender difference. Men had a significantly harder time finding the right products and performed slower than women. The study authors didn’t elaborate on that point, so we’ll let you make your own conclusions.
The study authors did conclude that “speaking [an object’s] name helps to activate and/or keep active visual (as well as nonvisual) features that are diagnostic of the object’s category, facilitating the processing of objects with representations overlapping those activated by the label.”
In other words, saying the name of the item you’re looking for in the grocery store (“green beans, green beans”) helps create a mental image of the item (in a can or fresh in the produce section), which can help you find it faster.