Home > Stuttering.Microblog > Renewed buzz on the not-so-new “new hypothesis” on stuttering

Renewed buzz on the not-so-new “new hypothesis” on stuttering

I had a number of people email or tweet this link to me over the past day, so it must have been posted on Stutt-L or the StutteringForum, etc.  In short, this is (part of) Conture‘s hypothesis on stuttering.

First off–this isn’t “new”.  The data is (at least) a number of years old.  Second off, even if it was “new”–it’s not really all that new because it’s an evolutionary spin-off of the psychological stuttering perspective.  In short, Conture is making the correlation between persistent developmental stuttering and emotional reactivity.  (To be honest, I’ve not read enough of their work to know if they try and deductively state that this emotional reactivity is causal to stuttering or not.  I certainly hope they didn’t though–as that would be an utterly irresponsible statement to make.)

Further, I’m not really impressed by the statistics.  Approximately 1/4 of stuttering kids are more emotionally reactive.  (What percentage of *all* kids are emotionally reactive?  I’ve spent some time w/ 3 year olds; it’s not hard to find emotional reactivity there!)  25% of anything doesn’t impress me much.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find that 25% of stuttering kids had delays in potty training, thereby supporting Sigmund Freud.  (Point being, 25% of any population is bound to have some common characteristic.)  (Example: let’s say that 25% of alcoholics prefer bourbon.  Any magic behind that statistic?  And what if I prefer bourbon?  Does that increase the likelihood of pending alcoholism?)

Now–let’s look at the origin of this ‘new hypothesis’.  First, the field of SLP has been blaming stuttering on the stutterer since (at least) the mid 1930s.  Wendell Johnson essentially bought into the fundamental attribution error, and makes the causal statement that stuttering is behaviorally conditioned response to speech-related anxiety.  (In other words, stutterers are weak people, can’t handle the normal pressures of life, and are more easily conditioned into stuttering than normal people.)

Since then, there’s been some data that try and support the assertion (above) by looking at how bad the parents are.  (In other words, bad parenting creates stuttering kids.)  And (if I recall correctly), a few studies found that parents of stuttering kids were indeed more “intense” (or whatever).  This is an interesting evolution of crap-science; when in doubt–blame mom.  (Much like Autism or even Tourette’s.)

Thus–to blame (either direclty or indirectly) stuttering on a kid’s emotional reacitvity is nothing “new”.  It’s definately not “new” to realize that emotionaly reactive kids/adults tend to be less-responsive to behavioral therapy.

But here’s my take.  This entire “new hypothesis” perspective is based on the same poor foundational understanding of what stuttering is.  This perspective assumes that stuttering is a behavior.  Stated differently, the concept of stuttering IS THE behavior.  So if kids are on the more emotionally reactive side of the spectrum, they are more likely to develop this speaking behavior.  And as long as we continue to limit ourselves with this perspective, we’re going to make the same mistakes that have always been made.

Instead, let’s look at it from a fresh perspective.  Perhaps the stuttering phenomenon INCLUDES this tendency toward emotional reactivity.  Stuttering (the phenomenon) includes physiological differences/abnormalities, a speech-related functional neurological signature, *and* other undetected neuro differences that *result* in behaviors such as emotional reactivity and overt stuttered speaking behaviors.  Stated differently, emotional reactivity and overt stuttering speaking behaviors are both symptoms of a common etiology.

As such, I’m not too impressed.  But I’ve not read tons of their research, so I could be wrong…

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  1. May 28th, 2009 at 19:32 | #1

    It was posted on the stutteringchat list. Lots of chatter. I am getting kind of bored with that group. Same group of regular responders, lots of snarkiness, and negativity.

    But it did bring some lurkers out to comment!


    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Yeah–funny how data that’s more than 3 years old (evolving from a perspective that’s decades old) can bring out the lurkers! 🙂


  2. May 29th, 2009 at 12:22 | #2

    The research has been debunked by Per Alm.


    No more time for words have an exam to prepare for!



    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Thanks for the link, Tom…I’ll definitely check it out. And good luck on the exam?


  3. Cricket
    May 29th, 2009 at 19:38 | #3

    You mean 25% of kids are in the bottom quartile?

    I wonder how much the stuttering predisposes the kids to be sensitive. If I expected to be teased each time I open my mouth, then I’d start reacting to the anticipated teasing before it started. And the kids who like excuses to tease will hang around me — so I can expect to be teased for more than just stuttering.

    Also, does stuttering cause the parents to observe their kids differently? If well-meaning friends tell you your son stutters because he’s over-sensitive, then every time he stutters, you’ll think it’s an over-sensitive moment.


    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    I’m pretty sure the authors of this perspective tried to measure the kids right @ onset. But in any event, I think your point is still a valid one. Life is just a little too complex to try and isolate one particular variable…


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