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Researchers study stuttering

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June 14, 2005
by Orrin Schonfeld

West Lafayette, Indiana-- Researchers have discovered that the brains of stutterers process words differently, even when they are not speaking. They hope their new understanding of this complex disorder will help to reduce the stigma felt by the roughly three million Americans who stutter.

Purdue University Speech Scientist Christine Webber-Fox and her research team have found that even when stutterers are not speaking, their brains work differently. They observed that stutterers had greater activity in the left side of the brain than the right, while normal speakers had balanced activity across both hemispheres.

 As reported in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, they measured the activity of brain cells through the scalp using a specially designed cap wired up with electrodes.

The brain activity of adults who stutter was compared with non-stutterers. The volunteers responded silently by pressing a button - forcing them to say the words to themselves. Some word pairs like 'flown' and ‘sown’ looked similar, while others did not.

People that stutter take longer in recognizing that those two words don't rhyme. Weber-Fox says this shows that the more complex a language task, the harder it is for stutterers to process words. But she reminds us that other factors, such as emotion, anxiety and genetics, work together to make stutter.

Although the cause of individual's stuttering is unique, Webber-Fox says her work offers hope for finding better ways to treat stuttering.

Learn more about the study at Science Central.

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