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Why Real Research in Stuttering Brain States is Needed

Until real research that considers the role of emotions and conditioning in stuttering is performed by credible researchers, these key elements of stuttering will remain in the hands of “cognitive therapists” who promise that they can help stutterers “think their way out” of stuttering by changing the semantic evalutions of feelings that people have when they stutter.  To the contrary, recent research (not associated with stuttering, unfortunately) is finding that emotions are largely formed by subconscious reactions to internal and external stimuli and that there is a progression from emotions of various types to feelings. Emotions are behaviors, which places them in the realm of stuttering behaviors, while feelings are thoughts about emotions (what Antonio Damasio calls “brain maps”), which places them in the realm of thoughts about or semantic evaluations of stuttering. While there is some ability to cognitively influence evaluations of emotional states, semantic therapies are dealing only with top-level thought processes and can only indirectly influence the underlying reactions and responses that trigger the emotions that accompany stuttering behaviors.

Further, many of the primary stuttering emotions supposedly targeted for extinction by semantic or cognitive approaches are completely rational (if unhelpful) in the context of stuttering. For example, I read an endorsement of neuro-semantics by one SLP (who should know better) expressing amazement that people could actually fear stuttering. To change or extinguish these emotions, one first needs to change the underlying reactions that are creating them.  That would seem to require work to modify actual stuttering behaviors in some way, shape or form.

Reactions before emotions; emotion-caused behaviors before feelings; feelings before thoughts about (or evaluations of) feelings. You can only partially reverse-engineer this progression. Semantics or linquistic arguments may work for people with cognitive and emotional disorders, but stuttering involves actual neurological characteristics and probable neural modifications over time  that language alone can’t begin to compensate for or extinguish.

2 comments to Why Real Research in Stuttering Brain States is Needed

  • Pam

    Who in your opinion would a credible researcher be? I am trying to find a credible Phd researcher, MD, in my area to help me figure out something.
    What qualfications make one credible in the area of neurology and stuttering, which utterly fascinating?

  • Hi Pam: There are many brilliant and credible researchers who hold PhD’s and are doing research in the field of neurology and stuttering, if you mean by that a person who knows how to design a research study, carry out an experiment, statistically analyze the results, and draw some preliminary conclusions that reflect the “prevailing wisdom” about stuttering in a way that will win them some more research funds. I don’t know where you are, so can’t recommend a specific researcher in your area. The problem is (my opinion), that much of the neurological research that’s being done is not advancing our understanding of the aspects of stuttering that would have a meaningful impact on the efficacy of therapy. There is a virtual lockdown on any research that has to do with how emotions and feelings associated with stuttering affect the speech-language-motor neurology and the resulting behavior. It seems that researchers in the field of stuttering just read each other’s stuff and don’t want to explore ideas drawn from outside the field because they don’t want their “credibility” in the field to be damaged. There’s an idea, apparently, that emotions and feelings are aspects of human experience that can’t be studied. But the fact is that they have been under intensive investigation for well over 25 years, and the body of research dwarfs the little that has been done on stuttering. There’s another line of thought, apparently, that because stuttering has to do with language, research that’s performed on lower animals and primates is not at all relevant to the reactivity, conditioning, and other processes associated with stuttering. For more, please contact me privately. There’s an email link on the Veils of Stuttering.