My central research examines the relationship between language and cognitive control, with a special focus on the moral and functional dimensions of inner speech, that is, our ‘internal monologue’ that accompanies much of our thinking. In a book project in process, I offer an account of our responsibility (or lack thereof) for what we ‘say’ in our heads, and I analyze the various functions of inner speech which explain why we ‘talk’ to ourselves. I develop a model of cognitive control that elucidates when we are and are not responsible for our inner speech, especially our more intrusive self-talk and the aberrant inner speech associated with various mental health conditions, like obsessive-compulsive, perinatal mood, and anxiety disorders. Regarding its cognitive functions, I argue that inner speech is the necessary medium for various forms of abstract cognition, like mathematical cognition and theory of mind. Thus, I establish that we ‘talk’ to ourselves through inner speech because we must if we are to engage in abstract thinking of this sort.
My research also explores how the language used in political engagement affects moral deliberation. As I demonstrate, language specific narratives are crucial for storing and accessing moral norms in memory. Particular norms and patterns of moral cognition are cued by the language used to store those norms. I argue that various forms of politicized in-speak (e.g., the use of terms like “woke” and “social justice warrior”) can generate an insular form of moral cognition that contributes to polarization. Relatedly, I argue that certain features of cognitive control can help explain why the prevalence of political misinformation is especially troubling for cognitive agents like us. I offer an account of cognitive control that elucidates why we can exert direct control over certain mental activity, like imagination, but not over our beliefs or apparent memories. As I demonstrate, certain media environments make it particularly difficult to separate information we genuinely believe from misinformation we’ve merely entertained or imagined.