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While at work I have to take a patient's consent in which I explain the plan and the risks to which they may be exposed.

I've given the same speech so often that my brain goes on automatic pilot and I don't even hear myself saying it anymore. In fact, at times I find myself wondering if I actually gave it as it's become so automatic.

I've heard John Oliver describe this phenomenon as mouth noise. (Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to this.) But to paraphrase:

He's said this so often it's just mouth noise to him at this point.

Is there a more formal name for this phenomenon? I'm not looking for by rote or similar. I'm seeking the phenomenon where you don't even notice your own words anymore.

I'd use it in a sentence such as:

I've given this speech so many times it's become .......

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  • Not authoritative, but this was the first thing that came to mind - monkey brain
    – Phil Sweet
    Oct 29, 2019 at 1:46
  • A marginally better example - Please Meet Your Monkey Mind "Because we have so many things going on at one time, when we multitask we can easily find ourselves using our “monkey brain”, making mindless decisions that may end up causing serious problems with important tasks, or even worse, with important relationships."
    – Phil Sweet
    Oct 29, 2019 at 1:56
  • @Phil Sweet I came across the term 'reptilian brain' when on an educational psychology course. 'Autopilot', when you suddenly realise you've been driving (or doing maths) almost subconsciously for the last ten minutes. Nov 1, 2019 at 17:39

3 Answers 3

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For a fascinating discussion of how repetition drains meaning from words, see Haiman 1990 “Ritualization and the development of language” (google books; photocopy). The process you are describing is I think a form of emancipation (§1.1) and habituation (§1.2). You are observing a decline in response to a stimulus that has become familiar through repeated exposure.

The thing you are saying is Ritual Speech, a kind of cliché.

I've given this speech so many times it's become ritual speech.

I've given this speech so many times it's become cliché.

You don't remember the speech because, to your brain, it is a single chunk: the individual words no longer have meaning for you. This doesn't mean that they don't have their proper effect. Du Bois 1987 suggests that ritual speech doesn't have intention. There is no difference between using words to control an Azande poison oracle, using your hands to control a microwave oven, or giving a ritual speech to get to the next step in a treatment.

But it would be interesting to record yourself giving the speech. Haiman describes different signals, such as stress, sing-song intonation, speed, etc. that betray ritualization. Your patients might be hearing a message that you don't mean to convey.

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  • Is 'ritual speech' a well-recognised expression? Bolding it in the same format as with cliché.would seem to invite that assumption. Nov 1, 2019 at 14:31
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muscle memory

the ability to repeat a specific muscular movement with improved efficiency and accuracy that is acquired through practice and repetition ~ Merriam-Webster

"I've given this speech so many times it's become muscle memory."

the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought - acquired through frequent repetition of that movement ~ Collins

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  • Good attempt. Not sure if it's quite right.
    – David M
    Oct 29, 2019 at 1:50
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To no longer be aware of the impact of something is to become desensitized to it:

[Merriam-Webster]
2 : to make emotionally insensitive or callous specifically : to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli that formerly induced it

Did You Know?

Physical desensitizing is something that biologists have long been aware of. Basic training in the armed forces tries to desensitize new recruits to pain. We can desensitize ourselves to the summer heat by turning off the air conditioning, or become desensitized to the cold by walking barefoot in the snow. But desensitize is more often used when talking about negative emotions. Parents worry that their children will be desensitized to violence by playing video games. Soldiers may become desensitized to death on the battlefield. Desensitizing may be natural and desirable under some circumstances, but maybe not so good in others.

// Coyotes, in response to the increase of human presence and human attractants, are being habituated or desensitized to humans.
— Sara Cardine, La Cañada Valley Sun, "Coyote encounters too close for some La Cañada residents, pet owners," 5 Sep. 2019

In addition to the lack of emotional response, when you become desensitized to something, you can also end up no longer processing its existence at all, thereby simply paying no attention to it.

For instance, if there have been construction workers in front of your office building every day for months, you may no longer consciously notice their presence after a while.

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