It’s refreshing to see a legitimately new research idea in press. And if the idea is of good quality, I get all the more excited. This research article measures the eye gaze of listeners as they are exposed to stuttering. (In other words, special equipment recorded where the listeners were looking as they saw stuttered speech.) Such an idea isn’t new; I remember having a conversation about this very research idea with one of the authors some 10 years ago–but it’s great to see that someone actually went out and did it.
There’s so much to like about this article. First off, the breakdown of communication relative to stuttering is always blamed on the stutterer. (The unconfident/diffident stutterer has bad eye contact because they’re nervous, which causes them to stutter.) This study turns that assumption on its ear, and collects data on the fluent listener. And what did they find? Sure nuff, fluent listeners break eye contact when looking at stuttering. So it appears as if no one is looking at anyone when stuttering is involved. All parties are involved here… (Looks like all could benefit from desensitization…)
This is where the authors and I differ. They report that this break in eye contact is a response to the communication breakdown… Nah. Incomplete. Innaccurate. This break in eye contact *represents* a breakdown in communication. They’re still under the mindset that ‘communication’ is the audible signal alone. It’s not–the visual signal is an important part of communication, and when there is stuttering present, people are turning this modality off.
It’s a safe assumption to make that when listeners break eye contact, that can be a shameful realization for the speaker. And that shame has consequences…