It’s not uncommon to hear an introvert declare they are better at writing than they are at speaking. I certainly include myself in that camp. While writing, my mind may draw a blank when it comes to finding the perfect word or phrasing, but while I’m talking my mind sometimes draws a blank on any word. And I’m not the only introvert who blanks out on words. It might be tempting for some to assume we’re just making this up, that we say we’re good at writing so we don’t feel like complete failures at every form of communication. After all, in the grand scheme of things we humans learned to write fairly recently, but we’ve had the capacity for verbal language a very long time. But a new study suggests that writing and speaking are actually supported by different systems of the brain.
A research team at Johns Hopkins University recently studied five stroke victims with aphasia (language disorders caused by damage to the brain). Four participants had difficulties writing sentences but not speaking sentences, while one participant had trouble speaking but not writing. They found that a participant may say “The man is catching a fish,” but would write “The men is catches a fish.” According to the study’s co-author, Simon Fischer-Baum, “If written language does depend on spoken language, then one would expect to see similar errors in speech and writing. If not, one might see that people don’t necessarily write what they say.”
Brenda Rapp, the study’s lead author, told the website Futurity, “it’s as though there were two quasi-independent language systems in the brain.” This finding may sound familiar if you’ve read Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage. She theorized that “Written words use different pathways in the brain, which seems to flow fluently for many introverts.” In her book, Dr. Laney also mentions that difficulty with spoken word retrieval, or being “brainlocked,” can be particularly difficult for an introvert who is overstimulated, or is in a group situation where there is conflict.
While I’m certainly not happy when I brainlock, it is a comfort to know that it’s possible for me to be better at writing than talking, and that it’s not just all in my head.