Why do people stutter?

Is it some voice box thing, or a brain problem thingy or what?

Dang that’s a good question wish I had thought of it…anyway I know a man that started stuttering because of his horrible headaches and a kid that stuttered up until he was 9 and grew out of it…the reasons I have heard range from “The person is so smart there mouth can’t keep up with their brain” and that it is a mild form of Tourettes Syndrome…but I doubt both so I will step aside and let the other dopers take this one.

Currently there are a number of theories for the cause of stuttering. Lumped together: a mixup in the timing of movements of speech muscles, a defect in auditory feedback (hearing yourself a millisecond later than you should), and a lack of cerebral dominance for language functions. It tends to run in families a bit too, which supports all of the above by suggesting that there’s a genetic neurological component.

The average right-handed person usually processes language with the left hemisphere of the brain. Those who stutter seem to process it a bit more with the right side - which may account for the slight glitch in speech motor control. Kinda like if you’re right handed, growing up writing with your left – you could do it, sure, but you may not be as fluid as you should be.

The right hemisphere also has a lot of the “emotion” circuitry so there are opinion that this is why stuttering gets worse under duress, excitability or other big emotions. The signals get in the way of each other a bit. Which would explain why it’s often exacerbated by stress (really exacerbated if the person then gets stressed out about stuttering).

The average person will have some kind of dysfluency. About 7-10% of speech gets choppy, hence the populairty of “um, well, er, huh…” Higher than 10% and your dysfluency may be a genuine stutter.

About 3-5% of children stutter as toddlers/preschoolers as a normal part of the development of language skills. If the little tyke persistently stutters for more than six months, then it’s something you want to look into.

I once read somewhere that most people that studder have a confidence problem and are suffering from low self esteem. Most people that either were (or still are) victims of some type of mental or physical abuse tend to studder heavily. I think it has a lot to do with their nervous system :frowning:

My statements are only educated guesses. I am sure that there are others here with a very strong background in Psychology that are far more versed in these issues than I am, that will chime in for us.

IANA anything, but I believe most of the psychological theories are being steadily discredited as physiological/neurological models seem more and more fitting.

Related question- is it true that you cannot stutter while whispering?

That one makes sense to me, as I will tend to stutter quite a bit at times, though not at others.

My experience (with a mom who had a slight stutter and a friend who had a crippling one) are the exact opposite. They are teased mercilessly, sometimes beaten to promote smooth speech (sheesh!) and their self-esteem drops accordingly.

My friend had such a horrific stutter that he couldn’t function. He began drinking heavily, couldn’t find a girl who could get past his stutter, couldn’t engage effectively at work, and subsequently had shitty jobs his whole life.

One day he got really fucked up on drink and drugs and wandered out into the frigid snowstorm and died. It’s a horrible dysfunction. Sad, indeed.

Both my father and my brother stutter. One of my favourite high school English teachers stutters. John Glenn’s wife stutters. James Earl Jones stutters. It’s very common.

From what I know about the experiences of my relatives and the treatment they have received over the years – no one really knows what causes it and no one knows what makes it go away. My father was (reportedly) a heavy stutterer in his childhood in youth. He eventually became a college professor and he had to lecture almost daily. I have never seen his stuttering interfere with his ability to communicate – it’s just a (very) occasional “skip” in the record.

My brother was a very, very heavy stutterer in his childhood. These days, I don’t notice his stuttering very often, but usually it’s when he’s among friends, relaxing, bullshitting, arguing about politics, that kind of stuff. From what I know, he doesn’t stutter much at work. When he was seeing speech therapists, he hardly stuttered at all with the therapist.

Now that is something I never thought of. I have heard there is a connection between forcing “handedness” and stuttering, but I never thought to take that further. I was ambidextrous as a child, and only became really right-handed when a teacher ran out of left-handed scissors. Now - I make my living as an artist, and it’s been said that my art is very “right brain” - geometric, symmetrical, etc. (I believe art is just generally assumed to be a left-brain thing.) And I have an intermittent stutter. Doesn’t really interfere with normal conversation, I just have a tendency to stick on a syllable occasionally (and most listeners would classify it as a babble, rather than a stutter.) So now you’ve got me wondering if I’ve suppressed my left hand!

This makes sense to me personally. I used to stutter when I was younger, in middle school mostly, up until high school. However, I didn’t do it all the time, just when I was talking to people that made me nervous (ie, people that made fun of me, basically), or in front of such people, like talking in class. I never stuttered around friends or close family, though.

I hardly ever do now, though occasionally I will stutter when extremely stressed.

Does anybody else think that it’s kind of a cruel joke that “stutter” is such a hard word to say that you almost stutter over it even if you don’t have one. Onamatopoetic (sp?) yes, but still not pleasant to say.

I heard (sorry, no cite) that implementing a simple monitor where a stuttering person was miked and the audio feed back to their ear eliminated stuttering altogether. Probably too much effort to go through unless it was as bad as the guy who walked out into the snowstorm. :frowning:

Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply there was a connection between forcing handedness and stuttering (I never thought about it actually) but rather I was trying to draw an anology. The human brain appears to be designed to process language in the left hemisphere, but stutterers tend to process speech using the right side which isn’t quite “optimized” for speech, so to speak.

While plenty of stutterers may have confidence issues - a lot of them get teased as kids and that does affect self-esteem, it is not the cause of stuttering. In fact, if you Google “Stuttering FAQ” you’ll find that those assertions have been discredited. As I said in my first post, while the definite cause hasn’t yet been determined, it appears to be primarily neurological and relating to motor skills.

Brain scans (PET scanning actually) have found that unusually low activity takes place in the central auditory processing area while somone stutters as well as in the part of the brain that integrates auditory feedback and physical senstation. Stutterers seems to have a slight difficulty integrating what they hear of their own voices with the muscle movements they feel from their facial muscles and tongue. It’s not brain damage, the wiring is just hooked up a little differently.

That said, the average person, when stressed or excited may get a bit stuttery or stammery, but that’s typical of any nervousness or stress. Some people get twitchy or tremble when they are nervous right? The muscles required for speech do the same thing. That’s why when you’re upset you may stammer, stutter or your voice may tremble.

acsenray Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a stutterer too.

I saw a TV show in which they fitted some stutterers with these fancy earplugs that made them hear their own voices in a strange synthersizery way without clear consonants and it seemed to really help.

I can totally see that. I’ve seen people get really confused in the recording studio when they are talking and hear themselves through the headphone monitors. You hear yourself, but not the way you normally hear yourself. I find it mildly disorienting myself.

No, but I actually think there IS a connection. I may be repeating an old wives’ tale, but I know I’ve heard stories of left-handers who were forced to be right-handed, and that they subsequently developed a stutter.

There was a study done in the the 30’s where some researchers attempted to “induce” stutter in normal children (orphans). They told them they were at a high risk for developing a stutter and constantly harped on their speech patterns. The kids became afraid to speak and felt like their lives were destroyed. The study has been nicknamed “The Monster Study” because of the horrible offects it had on the kids involved (they were socially stigmatized). Here’s an article about it.

The above article seems to imply that stuttering can be induced. But the longer NYTimes article I had read (which I can’t link to since it’s now archived) said that none of the children actually became stutterers, they were just stigmatized by the label. Hey, this article say much the same thing.

It’s fascinating reading, both for the information on stuttering and as a case study of dubious experimental ethics.

This recent article indicates stuttering has been linked to a brain abnormality.

Oh, I don’t doubt it, I just meant that I hadn’t really thought about it much myself. Forcing a kid to be right-handed when they were born lefty during the developmental stages of laguages skill might goof up the wires a bit.

I was always facsinated by the fact that country singer Mel Tillis would stutter during interviews but would sing perfectly. I often thought, why doesn’t he try to speak in a sing-song fashion; would it work?

Possibly different parts of the brain are at play here.

Since there’s no definitive answer on why exactly people stutter, there’s no definitive reason for why those who stutter stop in some cases. So it’s mostly educated speculation. But your guess is a very good one.

Stuttering tends to decrease when singing, or using a lower voice pitch, or whispering, or immitating an accent, or when speaking in a choral context (like when you’re reading a poem with your classmates).

The sticky-points of a stutter are usually the first sound of a sentence, accent syllables and the “main idea” words of a sentence.

It’s thought that it’s combination of controlled breathing and the elongation of words in song, and the fact that the words flow into each other without pause mitigate the sticky-points or regular speech. There is also some speculation that since singing and mimicry (like immitating another’s voice or accent) uses more of the creative side of right-brain function, “language” is getting processed by entirely different brain units than you’d use for normal speech. So when you memorize something or sing something, you’re not using your regular language processors. (Different cognitive functions required perhaps?)

James Earl Jones was terribly self-conscious and isolated as a kid because he was so embarassed by his stutter. Then he discovered that he could read Shakespeare out loud without a trace of it. Likewise, What’s-His-Nuts from Buffy found that taking acting classes improved his fluency because he didn’t stutter when reciting scripted lines.

The weirder ones are that stutterers frequently don’t stutter when they talk to themselves or to animals.

I used to stutter, lisp and have difficutly forming the "r’ sound. I sounded like a cross between Sylvester the cat, Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd.

I learned to, instead of stuttering or saying “um” or “er” etc, to simply stop speaking for a moment. This worked wonders. Unfortunatly, now I have a bad habit of simply trailing off my sentances, leaving them unfinished once the point had been…