Often subjected to cruel jibes and strange treatments, stammerers are finally getting answers from brain science and genetics.
I pray every day that no one will ask my name. That’s not because “Norman” is so terrible (it’s bad, but not that bad), but because I stammer. The thing we get asked most often in life is nearly impossible for me to get out.
I’m far from alone. Also called stuttering, stammering affects around 70 million people worldwide, and every language has a word for it. Despite this, it is an enigma, often ending up the subject of humour, pity or jibes rather than serious research. And until recently, any research that did occur focused on psychological causes of a condition many linked to mental trauma or anxiety.
Now, with developments in brain imaging and genetic techniques, a new picture of the condition is emerging, one that suggests a more tangible explanation. “There is something fundamentally different about the brains of people who stutter,” says Scott Grafton, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. And the hope is that a better grasp of the physiological basis of stammering could lead to better treatments.
For much of history, stammerers have been subjected to often misguided “cures”. One old belief blamed abnormalities of the tongue, leading to barbaric cutting of the “offending” body part. The Greek philosopher Demosthenes worked to boost his fluency by shouting at the sea with pebbles in his mouth.
In the 1920s, scientific investigation of stammering began, with a focus on psychological theories. One notable early idea was that it was caused by negative reactions by over anxious parents to children.
Forget the idea that stuttering normally has a psychological root in mental trauma or anxiety. It now seems that stuttering could have a very different cause.
Developments in brain imaging and genetic techniques are showing a new picture of the condition, one that suggests a more tangible explanation, and a possible cure.
Source: New Scientist, March 2016