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Stuttering begins with speech initiation, not because of impaired motor skills #ASA181

Newswise – SEATTLE, November 30, 2021 – About one in 20 people go through a period of stuttering during childhood. Until the second half of the 20th century, stuttering was considered a psychological problem resulting from lack of effort or trauma.

However, neuroimaging techniques are leading to a much better understanding of how the brain works during speech and how stuttering occurs. Frank Guenther of Boston University will present his findings on the origins of stuttering at the 181st meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, November 29-December 3 at the Hyatt Regency Seattle. The conference, “A neurocomputational view of developmental stuttering”, will take place on Tuesday, November 30 at 2:15 p.m. Eastern United States

Guenther compares speech to a jukebox that plays CDs. The jukebox has two circuits: one that selects a CD and one that plays the CD.

Inside the brain, this corresponds to a circuit initiating the desired speech in the basal ganglia, while another circuit coordinates the muscles needed to generate speech. Stuttering arises from the initiation of speech, so only the first of the two circuits is impaired.

“In stuttering, the CDs themselves are fine, but the mechanism for choosing them is impaired,” Guenther said.

This theory is consistent with behavioral observations of stuttering. People often pronounce fluent words later in a sentence, even if the same words cause a stutter at the start of a sentence.

Guenther and his team created computer models of how the speech initiation circuit works in a non-stuttering individual. Because Parkinson’s disease also affects the initiating circuit, they can compare these patterns directly to data extracted from the basal ganglia during deep brain stimulation surgery in patients with the disease.

“It gives us a chance to find the specific issues underlying stuttering and address them with highly targeted drugs or technological treatments that have minimal adverse side effects,” Guenther said.




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The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international acoustics scientific society devoted to the science and technology of sound. Its 7,000 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (the world’s leading journal on acoustics), Acoustics Today magazine, books and standards on acoustics. The society also organizes two major scientific meetings each year. For more information about the ASA, visit our website at


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