Even though there has been a significant amount of research on the subject over decades, the inherent causes of the speech disruptions in those who stutter remain elusive. But studies looking at the role of beat perception in speech are shedding new light on the condition. One study found that children who stutter may have a difficulty with more than just their speech.
In the study, children were asked to listen to and identify rhythmic drumbeats. What the results showed was that that those children who stammered had trouble doing so.
“Stuttering has primarily been interpreted as a speech motor difficulty, but this is the first study that shows it’s related to a rhythm perception deficit — in other words, the ability to perceive and hear a beat,” said Devin McAuley, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.
“That’s important because it identifies potential interventions which might focus on improving beat perception in children who stutter, which then might translate to improved fluency in speech,” added McAuley, who is co-author of . He also said that 70% to 80% of children between 3 to 5 years old who stammer will eventually stop.
But how is being able to identify a beat involved with a person’s ability to speak? Research shows that it is an important factor as the ability to perceive and maintain a beat serves as a pacing signal. This is backed up by previous research that shows that speech fluency for adults who stutter improves when speaking in time with a metronome.
In this study, two groups of children were tested: one that stuttered and a control group who didn’t. They each had to listen to and then identify rhythmic drumbeats in the context of a computer game. The results found that kids who stuttered were much worse at judging whether two rhythms were the same or different. This held true even after the IQs and language abilities of the children were taken into account.
McAuley and the research team are now reviewing the behavioral data with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to try and find out which brain networks could be responsible for the rhythm perception deficit.
The study was published in the journal Brain and Language
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