Unveiling Stuttering Fluctuations: A Genetic Role-Blocking Mechanism – Human Roles; Specialization; Hierarchy; Evolution; Stammering; Identity; True Self

Written by Matthew O’Malley

Traduction Française: FLUCTUATION DU BÉGAIEMENT – MÉCANISME DE BLOCAGE DES RÔLES (Richard Parent)

Preface: The hypothesis laid out in this piece offers considerable information that is compelling in explaining many of the phenomena of stuttering.  It merits consideration and further investigation.  I suggest one reads with an open mind and in its entirety before making judgments on its merit.

Stuttering Proposed as a Role-Blocking MechanismThe above graphic depicts human roles and human interaction.  After some explanation it will aid in graphically explaining why stuttering fluctuates from person to person and situation to situation.  We’ll dive more deeply into this graphic after the explanation.

Synopsis:  Self-suppression is required for the human species to function as a whole.  If individuals expressed every thought/emotion and acted on every impulse, the species could not function nor survive.  This places a high evolutionary value on self-suppression.  There are environmental mechanisms that contribute to self-suppression such as “the socialization of a child” (Aronfreed & Reber, 1965).  Certain unwanted actions and expressions come with adverse attachment consequences (withdrawal of parent affection or punishment).  This contributes to the child/individual beginning to self-suppress.  There are also genetic contributors to self-suppression such as inherited shyness (Schmidt & Spooner, 2005).  Stuttering is also a condition with significant genetic contributions (Kraft & Yairi, 2012).  This trait has value to the species as a whole in contributing to the self-suppression of individuals just like shyness and “socialization” do.  In this way stuttering serves a valued purpose to the species as a whole (by helping meet the need for self-suppression).  The human species requires a variety of roles to be performed for the social group or civilization to function as a whole (Eusociality, 2020).  This is similar to the social species of the honey bee.  There must be worker bees, drones, and a queen for the hive to function and survive.  Each individual bee must perform its specific role (Page, Scheiner, Erber, & Amdam, 2006).  The same is true in human groups and civilizations.  A variety of roles must be filled for the species to function as a whole.  There must be presidents and there must be laborers.  There must be tribal leaders and there must be medicine men.  There must be caretakers and their must be children.  There must be CEOs and there must be custodians.  Without these organized-role-structures within the species, it can’t function.  In order to ensure certain roles get occupied, genetic mechanisms produce individuals with varying strengths and weaknesses to be “specialized” to fill needed roles.  Stuttering is one of these genetic mechanisms.  The stuttering mechanism attempts to block an individual who stutters from occupying certain roles (Sheehan, Hadley, & Gould, 1967).  This relegates them to other roles that need filling.  Hierarchy within the species and role specialization contributes to what types of interactions and expressions the stuttering mechanism “chooses” to activate in and which ones it does not (Sheehan, Hadley, & Gould, 1967).  This valued evolutionary mechanism helps ensure the proper distribution of specialized roles within the species to function.  The genetic stuttering mechanism is of benefit to the species as a whole but is often frustrating or detrimental to the thriving of the individual with the trait.  It’s evolutionary genetic payoff is “role-blocking”.  The stuttering mechanism activates to block an individual from occupying certain roles (Gerlach, Totty, Subramanian, & Zebrowski 2018).  This is why a person who stutters can speak stutter-free or with less stuttering in some interactions and stutter profoundly or significantly more in others.  Based on the role-dynamic of the interaction the stuttering mechanism either activates or lies dormant.

Let’s begin…

Why does a person stutter differently with different people?  Why do some people who stutter stop stuttering when talking to children or their pet or with certain people but not others?  Why does stuttering become more severe with certain types of individuals and less severe with others?

These are some of the age-old questions about stuttering that have yet to be satisfactorily answered.

This piece proposes a human role mechanism which interacts with stuttering or is inherent in the nature stuttering.  I’m confident if you read the piece in its entirety, you’ll find the puzzle pieces fit neatly to unveil profound aspects of the stuttering condition.  We’ll also dive in to how to use this information in a practical way to self-treat if desired.

As humans, we play a variety of different roles throughout our day, week, and lifespan.  One person may play the role of son, husband, father, employee, coach, etc. all in the same day.  Another person might play daughter, mother, doctor, neighbor, etc.  This is part of being human; playing different roles with different people.

Even within these roles, there are micro roles.  For example a doctor doesn’t simply occupy the same role as “doctor” with all his/her patients.  Each patient brings a different dynamic to the role.  One patient may require a sympathetic consoling doctor while another requires a more formal informational approach.  The doctor interacts with nurses with different personalities which pulls upon different roles for the doctor to play.  So, even within these general “roles” that we play such as “doctor”, there are a wide variety of micro-roles.

I am proposing that there is a mechanism in the human for role selection which significantly interacts with or is part of the stuttering condition.  Stuttering is a role blocking mechanism.  It inhibits speech when a person who stutters attempts to perform or occupy certain roles.  When certain roles are called to be performed, the brain/mind/subconscious goes into a state to perform this role.  Certain roles in the person who stutters bring with it the activation of the stuttering mechanism (speech movement inhibition).  Other roles do not bring the stuttering mechanism into play.  Based on the role selection mechanism that is largely subconscious, stuttering is either called upon to perform its action (speech movement inhibition) or the stuttering mechanism is dormant if this role is “allowed” by this mechanism to be performed.

Before diving more deeply into “stuttering as a role-blocking mechanism” it is necessary to have a general understanding of my previous post; Stuttering: An Evolutionary Hypothesis.  The points of this previous post are summarized in the six bullet points below sufficient enough to follow this current post.  They are as follows:

  1. Suppression of self is an evolutionary need for the human species to function as a whole.  Self-suppression includes inhibiting one’s self from expressing inappropriate things or acting on every impulse.  In order for the human species as a whole to function, each individual must suppress themselves.  If each individual did not suppress themselves, the species could not function (there would be violence and uncapped emotional release by every individual).  This suppression is partly accomplished through the socialization of the child.  The parent teaches them what is appropriate and what is not.  The child learns that certain actions or expressions come with human attachment consequences (withdrawal of affection or punishment).  Therefore, the child begins to suppress themselves to appease attachments which is needed for the species to function as a whole.
  2. Based on point 1, suppression of individuals has value to the species as a whole evolutionarily.  To accomplish this there are environmental mechanisms in place like the “socialization of a child”.  However, there are likely genetic mechanisms in play as well.  Shyness has genetic contributions and is a genetic way of attaining this evolutionarily valuable suppression of self.  The person is shy, therefore they suppress themselves.  I propose that stuttering is also a condition with genetic contributions that also has species wide payoff.  It suppresses more individuals (just like shyness does) which is evolutionarily indispensable for the functionality of the species as a whole.
  3. The human species requires individuals to function as “cogs” within the species as a whole.  This is intrinsic in the social nature of the human.  A human being is evolutionarily designed to live and function in a group, tribe, community, or civilization.  Within these systems (groups, civilizations) specialized roles are required to be filled.  In other words, not every human does the same thing but must “play their unique part” in the larger system.  In tribes, there are hunters, medicine men/women, gatherers, shamans, those who raise children, etc.  In civilizations, there are a tremendous number of “roles” that must be filled.  There are clerks, accountants, doctors, teachers, students, parents, children, etc.  The point is the human species requires individuals to fill needed roles within the larger system of the human community.  This is needed for the species’ survival.  This is inherent in human nature; role-filling
  4. A good comparison to the human species as a whole is a beehive.  Bees are a social and hierarchical species.  You need worker bees to fill their roles, drones to fill their roles, and the queen to fill her role.  If every bee in this system said “I’m the queen!” and revolted, this hive would quickly perish.  Hierarchy, organization, and role-filling are requirements for the honey bee species to survive.  The same is true with humans.
  5. In social and hierarchical species like the honey bee and the human, the group’s survival is often evolutionarily valued more than the individual’s.  Most evolutionary vantage points see the individual as what is being shaped to survive.  However, sometimes attributes within the individual are detrimental to them individually, but beneficial to the species as a whole.  The clearest example is again the honey bee.  The honey bee has developed the barbed stinger and the barb allows the stinger to remain in the organism they have stung to continue to release toxins even after the bee flys away.  This trait is detrimental to the individual bee as this barbed stinging results in the death of the individual bee that did the stinging (it fatally wounds the bee).  However, this stinging mechanism with extended toxin release serves the greater good of the bee species as this stinging deters other species from approaching the hive.  This is an example of how an individual can be evolved to its own detriment of survival but in service of the species’ survival as a whole.
    1. In building off of this, humans also have traits that are detrimental to themselves individually but serve the greater good.  Shyness may be one of them as stated.  With well-established research linking stuttering to a genetic predisposition, I propose that stuttering is one of these mechanisms as well.  It has value to the species as a whole as it keeps more individuals suppressed (a valued need for the species as a whole).  It can be of tremendous dissatisfaction to the individual who stutters, but this suppression serves some of the greater good of the species.  It enables certain roles that are needed within the species to be filled (similar to a worker bee) and it can deny the person who stutters from filling a role they personally may find more desirable.
  6. Role specialization and hierarchy are inherent in the mind and nature of the human being.  There are a limited number of roles just like in a beehive.  There is only one queen.  Therefore, the other bees have to function in their more subservient role to support the hive.  This hierarchy is also present in human communities and organizations.  There is a President of a country.  There is a CEO of a company.  There are roles underneath these positions that must be performed for the organization to function.  For example, you need an accountant.  You need a secretary.  You need laborers etc.  To accomplish this you need humans with varying strengths and weaknesses.  Everyone cannot be the leader or the “human ideal”.  Most humans have to fill a role that has an element of subservience to it for the species to function.  This requires suppression of self which is why self-suppression is of tremendous value to the species as whole and the genetic predisposition to stuttering helps accomplish this.

Now that the above has been covered we can begin to explain stuttering more thoroughly as a role-blocking mechanism which serves a species wide payoff evolutionarily.  The assertions made are compelling in explaining the variability of stuttering from one interaction to the next.  The reason for this is because the stuttering mechanism’s job is to block the person who stutters from occupying certain roles within the species.  Usually, the roles it blocks a person from occupying are the more desirable ones.  The species needs to have subservient roles filled such as labor jobs etc.  These roles are less desirable often times, however, they are indispensable to the function of civilization and tribes.

While each person who stutters has a somewhat unique pattern of what causes their stuttering to fluctuate from person to person, there are numerous general rules in which stuttering increases.  People who stutter usually stutter more with people higher on the hierarchy than them.  They stutter more with figures of authority.  People who stutter often stutter more when interacting with the opposite sex or when trying to attract a mate.  People who stutter often stutter less with people perceived as lower on the hierarchical structure such as individuals “beneath them” or children.  Many people do not stutter at all when they are not performing in any role; when they are alone.  In this case, they are not playing a role to anyone else.  This is the genetic stuttering mechanism performing its job.  It is suppressing certain individuals from occupying more desirable roles in order to serve the species system as a whole.

When a person who stutters goes to talk to their boss or is in an interview with a superior, they often stutter significantly more.  This again is the stuttering mechanism accomplishing its evolutionary goal; keeping an individual suppressed in order to fill needed roles often lower on the hierarchy.  As noted above, the filling of these roles is indispensable to the function of the species.  So the genetic mechanism of stuttering has evolved to inhibit the person who stutter’s expression when attempting to occupy certain roles.  However, the stuttering mechanism lies dormant when a person who stutters is in a role that the stuttering mechanism deems appropriate to fill.

Let’s look at the graphic again:

Stuttering Proposed as a Role-Blocking Mechanism

Every interaction requires more than one person.  The person who stutters may interact with one individual or with a group.  In each of these interactions there is an interactive role dynamic in play.  Depending on the role of the person who stutters and the role of the people they are interacting with, the genetic and purposeful stuttering mechanism will “decide” whether speech should be inhibited or should be allowed to flow.  For example, if a person who stutters is attempting to assert themselves as a leader when interacting with another leader, the stuttering mechanism may activate to keep the person who stutters in a more subservient role.  If the person who stutters is interacting with a pet or a child, the stuttering mechanism lies dormant as this is not an attempt to occupy or assert one’s self into a role the stuttering mechanism “disallows”.  As a result speech flows.

Depending on the specific dynamic of the interaction, which there are thousands to millions of ways roles can interact with one another, the stuttering mechanism “makes a decision” as to whether the person who stutters is allowed to express themselves or not.  This can explain the very puzzling variability of stuttering from interaction to interaction.  A person who stutters is often mystified.  They have a conversation with somebody and their speech flows incredibly well.  They walk over to another person where the interactive role dynamic has changed and all of a sudden their speech is blocked and they are stuttering.  This evolutionary hypothesis that stuttering is a valued evolutionary mechanism to serve the species as a whole by blocking individuals who stutter from occupying certain roles within the species to force them to fill other needed roles can function to explain numerous elements of the condition.  It can explain the variability of stuttering from interaction to interaction.  It can explain the genetic element of stuttering (there are genes for it because it has an evolutionary payoff).  It may even explain the 4:1 male:female ratio of stuttering as males throughout evolutionary history are more involved in the hierarchical elements of the species.

MAKING THIS PRACTICAL FOR SELF-TREATMENT

In order to combat some of these elements for the person who stutters that is working to “self-treat” and diminish their stuttering symptoms, it may be advantageous to work on one’s own self-image and their perception of others.  By altering how one views themselves and others, this can impact how the unconscious mind interprets interactive role dynamics and bring with it more “stutter-free interactions”.  Seeing one’s self as a leader and others as equals or less than on the hierarchical ladder may be a methodology to alter when the stuttering mechanism activates and lies dormant.  Also, just seeing everyone as simply equal on a conscious and unconscious level may be effective.  For those looking to self-treat, altering the unconscious interpretation of role dynamics can serve to make stuttering lie dormant more often.

OTHER NOTES

The extreme frustration often experienced by a person who stutters is the stuttering mechanism seems particularly astute at activating when the person is trying to be the “true self”.  This is what can cause severe levels of depression and frustration in the person who stutters.  Much of life is about expressing, manifesting, and actualizing the true self.  The stuttering mechanism seems particularly keen on blocking the expression of the “true identity”.  This is one role it often “decides” to “block” a person from expressing.

I have compared stuttering to other conditions such as the yips (here).  The stuttering mechanism may not be exclusive to speech.  Part of this mechanism may be an “anti-shine” mechanism.  It’s goal is to disallow an individual from occupying a role of high status.  This is why “the yips” can manifest in high pressure sports situations that if the person executes a sports movement that will allow them to occupy a high hierarchical position within their field, the yips exerts itself and prevents the performance of the action.

Stuttering also exists in sign language.  The same way the stuttering mechanism blocks speech, it can also activate to block communicative attempts in sign language to accomplish the same goals outlined above.

Stuttering, of course, as many theories put forth have explored interacts with conditioning as well.  Here is one such piece that dives deeply into the conditioning element that also affects stuttering.

People often despise the “shining” or profound success of others.  This may also be a species mechanism to keep people within the lower realms of the hierarchy.

References

Aronfreed, J., & Reber, A. (1965). Internalized behavioral suppression and the timing of social punishment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1(1), 3-16. doi:10.1037/h0021636

Eusociality. (2020, July 11). Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusociality

Gerlach, H., Totty, E., Subramanian, A., & Zebrowski, P. (2018). Stuttering and Labor Market Outcomes in the United States. Journal of speech, language, and hearing research : JSLHR61(7), 1649–1663. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_JSLHR-S-17-0353

Kraft, S. J., & Yairi, E. (2012). Genetic Bases of Stuttering: The State of the Art, 2011. Folia Phoniatrica Et Logopaedica, 64(1), 33-46. doi:10.1159/000331073

Page, R. E., Scheiner, R., Erber, J., & Amdam, G. V. (2006). The Development and Evolution of Division of Labor and Foraging Specialization in a Social Insect (Apis mellifera L.). Current Topics in Developmental Biology Volume 74 Current Topics in Developmental Biology, 253-286. doi:10.1016/s0070-2153(06)74008-x

Schmidt, L. A., Polak, C. P., & Spooner, A. L. (2005). Biological and Environmental Contributions to Childhood Shyness: A Diathesis-Stress Model. In W. R. Crozier & L. E. Alden (Eds.), The essential handbook of social anxiety for clinicians (p. 33–55). John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Sheehan, J., Hadley, R., & Gould, E. (1967). Impact of authority on stuttering. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 72(3), 290-293. doi:10.1037/h0024674

18 thoughts on “Unveiling Stuttering Fluctuations: A Genetic Role-Blocking Mechanism – Human Roles; Specialization; Hierarchy; Evolution; Stammering; Identity; True Self

  1. Hey Matthew, good work ….I guess the quinsenntial enigma still remains… despite all the theories you have put forward…why/how the majority of children outgrow the ” stuttering mechanism ” …that rules out your ” genetic stuttering causal factor theory ” for sure ….
    agreed on one point though…pws who need to make their way out must/should know the ” things” very objectively what is hindering the spontaneous vocalization process…and then work their way out from there… mindfulness / being in the moment / being nonreactive/ Relaxation /letting go / being in the Zen State …etc. all helps ….I repeat , every Individual has his/hers own individual Stuttering enigma to unravel…I guess a blanket ” Stuttering mechanism theory ” is too simplistic / generalistic to explain the enigma… peace and cheers , Annu

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    1. Hi Anu. Thanks for your feedback. And yes, the genetic portion is not an attempt to explain the condition of stuttering in its entirety. As we know genetic make-up interacts with environment so some people “recover” likely due to environmental reasons or simply have a reduced likelihood to persist based on genetics. There are other factors that contribute to stuttering of course such as conditioning which was mentioned in the piece. But yes, the enigma is unraveling. It shows itself in glimpses and the puzzle pieces do fit in some way. We’ll get there!

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      1. Appreciate the feedback Matthew….I think I didn’t make myself clear when I mentioned recovery …I meant recovery in ” majority ” of the children/ of course many adults who outgrow Stuttering . I just was advocating on the optimistic / hopeful side that the stuttering enigma is not organic/genetic ( the scientific community is still debating the chicken or the egg analogy in stuttering…whether organic difference is due to or caused by developmental stuttering ;))…so when Nature is ruled out what as you rightly mentioned Nurture remains… that my friend is the Enigma ! I am fascinated by the fact /role of Amygdala and the role of fear which hampers spontaneous vocalisation…and how realising and working constructively on the above-mentioned brings about long lasting relief..to be very honest I’m also influenced by work of William Parry ….just my two pints worth ! …cheers and peace …Anu

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      2. Appreciate the feedback Matthew….I think I didn’t make myself clear when I mentioned recovery …I meant recovery in ” majority ” of the children/ of course many adults who outgrow Stuttering . I just was advocating on the optimistic / hopeful side that the stuttering enigma is not organic/genetic ( the scientific community is still debating the chicken or the egg analogy in stuttering…whether organic difference is due to or caused by developmental stuttering ;))…so when Nature is ruled out what as you rightly mentioned Nurture remains… that my friend is the Enigma ! I am fascinated by the fact /role of Amygdala and the role of fear which hampers spontaneous vocalisation…and how realising and working constructively on the above-mentioned brings about long lasting relief..to be very honest I’m also influenced by work of William Parry ….just my two pints worth ! …cheers and peace …Annu

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      3. Yeah, I believe some studies point to recovery rates in children as high as 90% though the more generally agreed upon number is 80% of children “recover” from stuttering. I’ve also seen statistics that suggest later recoveries in life. For example (these numbers are approximate from my memory), .85% of the population between the ages of 20-40 stutter. However, .65% stutter between the ages of 40-60. Those are not the exact stats but there are statistics out there that would imply later recoveries than child age. I’ll end by saying just because something is genetic does not mean it is un-treatable or unchange-able. So even with the genetic component, that doesn’t rule out effective intervention possibilities. Thanks again for your feedback.

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  2. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for posting your latest piece. I think the underlying premise – that stuttering is a role-mediated disorder, will eventually prove to be accurate.
    I’m struck by the similarity of your theory to Stevens and Price’s theory of bipolar disorder. I’ve not currently got their book (Evolutionary Psychiatry) with me, as I’ve just loaned it to someone, but from what I remember, they propose that a whole group of mental conditions are essentially “disorders of rank” – with bipolar disorder being one of the most clear-cut example. Their idea is that humans (like other primates) are constantly vying with each other for the highest possible rank within their social group. Much of this competition involves physical aggression, whereby the stronger one wins and attains a higher status, and the weaker one submits and accepts a lower status. Their theory was that that winning leads to an increase in certain neurotransmitter levels, leading to a burst of energy and confidence and what might be described as essentially manic behaviour, whereas losing leads to a decrease in those neurotransmitter levels, leading to a loss of energy and confidence and essentially depressed behaviour. The manic behaviour in the victor and depressed behaviour in the victim takes weeks, months or even years to resolve so the victor is able to enjoy his higher status for that extended period of time before any possibility of his status being challenged again (at least by that individual). In this way, further physical fighting is minimized, and the status quo is maintained without anyone getting injured or killed. This mechanism, although not very pleasant for the loser, is good for the group as a whole, as it minimizes injuries to individuals, and keeps them all relatively safe from harm.
    It is quite possible – indeed likely – that a similar mechanism exists in human beings that plays out on the level of speech and language, rather than on the level of physical fighting.
    In my own theory, (the Variable Release Threshold Hypothesis) the idea is that we anticipate (based on past experience) the likely outcome of our verbal exchanges, and if we anticipate that we will be unsuccessful in getting our point across or if we anticipate that our attempt to do so will result in a negative (and essentially punishing) response from our interlocutor , then we find ourselves unable to initiate motor execution of that message. This inability to initiate motor execution of certain utterances probably occurs in all people. But whereas most people intuitively feel the need to keep quiet at such times, stutterers are prone to trying to speak regardless… the result being that they find themselves trying to speak and unable to get their words out.
    I think an important insight from Stevens and Price’s work on bipolar disorder, is that the depression that follows defeat in competitive situations is only temporary. Thus people with bipolar disorder tend to alternate between experiences of remission and relapse. These experiences tend to align themselves to experiences of victory and defeat in social interactions. People who stutter often show the same alternating pattern – of remission and relapse – associated with successes and failures of verbal communication.
    A further interesting point mentioned by Stevens and Price is that primates tend to have two possible modes of interaction with each other – “agonic” and “hedonic”. These roughly correspond to “competitive” and “cooperative”. Primates that exist in groups tend to function in agonic (competitive) mode during times of plenty, whereas they revert to hedonic (cooperative) mode at times of famine or crisis. When in agonic mode, they show strong hierarchical tendencies, with alpha-males gaining control over weaker males and winning hareem’s of females. In contrast, at times of crisis, the hierarchical structure breaks down and they start to co-operate as equals. I find this really interesting, as it makes me wonder whether, as the human race enters a time of environmental crisis, this shift from agonic to hedonic (from competition to cooperation) will tend to occur in human societies, and the rigid hierarchies will become more fluid and less extreme. If this occurs, a side-effect of it happening may be that stuttering will become less prevalent.
    Refs.
    Anthony Stevens & John Price (2015) Evolutionary Psychiatry: A new beginning.
    Paul Brocklehurst, Robin Lickley, Martin Corley (2013) Revisiting Bloodstein’s Anticipatory Struggle Hypothesis from a psycholinguistic perspective: A variable release-threshold hypothesis of stuttering.

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    1. A further point, that I forgot to mention, was that status is age-related. Young children naturally have low status, and their status in the hierarchy increases as they get older. This might partially explain why stuttering is so prevalent in young children and why its severity and prevalence reduces over time.

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      1. Interesting read Paul …….
        when we go down along this hypothesis , the question still remains ……why /how in the onset of developmental stuttering in children , what switch occurs which makes the majority of this population subset “s stuttering to get resolved ….What makes ” weaklings ” to ” alphas ” ? …and approx. 1 % ( the subset in adult population which later is residual population ) do not ? makes us question the Evolutionary Psychiatry Hypotheses and Theories
        Why don’t we focus on finding out the physio-psycho-logical aspects which brings about this positive change instead of focussing our energy on splitting the psycho-analytical hair ? Maybe we are asking the wrong questions ? Maybe there is a physiological enigma still entangled in psychoanalytical mumbo jumbo prying to reveal itself ! A fear response which affects the speech mechanism …which can be modulated by unlearning the maladaptive learned behaviour ? Theories and Hypotheses are nice to read …but I guess children / adults who are dealing with Stuttering needs constructive answers , some direction of Hope and I feel Hope comes from a proactive mindset which rebels against a fatalistic hypothetical/theoretical mindset … points to ponder 🙂
        Cheers and peace

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      2. Hello there. Thanks for your input on this. It is really appreciated. I’m curious as to who you are but respect your desire to remain anonymous. And yes, of course even if the postulations in this post are correct there are still questions that remain such as what factors induce “spontaneous recovery” from stuttering etc. And yes there of course are even more questions to unravel.

        I actually fully agree with your point that the end goal is practical application of methodologies that really impact lives. If you’ve followed this site from its beginning, you’d see that that is the entire end goal that I have in mind. However, effective methodologies for intervention must first be informed by an accurate understanding of the condition we are dealing with. It is possible to find effective methodologies without this and I have offered some suggestions throughout my site’s postings include a full guide (which I would modify with new understandings). So, this theoretical stage I am in is part of the process for me in creating effective intervention. My eye is on that ball and I agree that the focus should be there.

        Thanks for your valuable feedback 🙂

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      3. Dear Matthew, For the record , I never tried / will try to be ” undercover ” lol 🙂 ….Infact in my very first feedback , I guess to your very early writings , I had shared with you that my name is Anupam snd I’m a practising Ophthalmic Surgeon presently based in Germany. You just had to turn the pages back 🙂
        Stuttering had been/ is very personal to me for the very obvious reason that I belong to the rare 1 % Human Species too. I hope the information suffices , for more just drop me a line 🙂
        Coming back , I have read every word you have written and your analytical and meticulous style continues to impress .
        I know from where you are coming from and where you are heading to . I just want to share my inputs as an unbiased control . We all have the same goal as far as the Stuttering enigma is concerned.
        Last but not the least, I had hoped to get the feedback direct from Paul 🙂
        Keep up the good work,
        Cheers and peace

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    2. Thanks for the feedback Paul. Your input with your extreme depth of knowledge on the stuttering condition is always of tremendous value to me. The competition for status is certainly an easily observable aspect of human behavior which is also validated by many of the studies and research, much of which you mentioned. I am encouraged to hear about the Evolutionary Psychiatry text which makes similar postulations on other conditions. It may be of benefit to get in touch with those researchers and form some sort of collaboration where their psychiatric expertise and research methods could advance further testing of some of these hypotheses. I very much enjoyed your point about how when resources are scarce, tribes etc. move to a more cooperative and less hierarchical dynamic as opposed to when resources are abundant and status becomes the next thing to compete for. It largely aligns with the hierarchy of needs in the human and I can also affirm those statements simply based on observation of the world. In times of disaster, “togetherness” increases. On times of abundance people compete for status more. In Maslow’s hierarchy (a good model but not unflawed IMO) this social tendency makes sense. When resources are abundant and physical needs are met, the human switches to a mode of meeting social goals such as status and self-actualization. Let’s have a chat soon. I’m continuing to work through your writings. Thanks as always for your great work in so many areas and your feedback.

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      1. This is primarily a response to Anu’s questions. I’ll write again later in response to some of the points that matt raised in his last comment.

        Research findings (especially twin studies) indicate clearly that in the majority of cases it is a *propensity to stutter* that is inherited, and whether or not this propensity then manifests as actual stuttering depends to a large extent on the things that happen to people with that propensity in their daily lives. Its likely that this propensity to stutter is a part of a more general genetically-mediated propensity towards “reactivity” – the tendency to (over)react to stimuli.
        If you could imagine people as forming a spectrum of reactivity, stutterers would tend to fall towards the high-reactivity end of that spectrum.
        From a physiological perspective, this high level of reactivity is likely to reflect a highly active dopamine system… and anatomically this may be reflected in a high density of dopaminergic cells and dopamine receptors in the striatum and other brain areas. Such people are highly sensitive to rewards and punishments, inasmuch as they “feel” rewarding stimuli to be highly rewarding, and they feel punishing stimuli to be highly punishing.
        One of the consequences of this hypersensitivity to rewards and punishments is that it may cause such people to become easily traumatized by the negative responses that they receive from people, especially from people that are important in their lives, and the negative responses to their attempts at verbal communication may well inhibit their ability to speak – to some people in some situations.
        I think the fact that most stutters recover as they grow older simply reflects the fact that most (indeed virtually all) humans become less sensitive and less reactive as they grow older. Thus, as we become less sensitive, we no longer experience the negative responses of listeners as so punishing or so traumatizing, and so our fear of eliciting such responses reduces and as our fear reduces we no longer experience such difficulty executing our planned utterances. This age-related decrease in sensitivity probably reflects the (well-established) decrease in the level of dopamine production and metabolism that naturally occurs in all people (and animals) as they grow older. Also, as I mentioned in my last post, as people grow older, their status in society automatically rises, other people tend to treat them with more respect and are more inclined to listen to what they say and to respond positively or politely to it. So, as people grow older, generally they receive fewer negative responses from listeners to their communication attempts.
        In answer to your question about how the evolutionary theory can help, I think it can help people in a number of ways. Understanding that the reactivity and hypersensitivity that underlie stuttering are largely genetically determined and continue to be selected (by natural selection) because they fulfil useful functions to society can help us to accept them and adapt to them. This understanding can also help us to be pragmatic in our communication attempts, and to identify and avoid situations that are likely to traumatize us and potentially make our stuttering more severe. Knowing that reactive/sensitive people are essential to society as a whole – and contribute to its overall fitness – is helpful, not least because it can provide us with a healthy sense of self-worth. Although such people may indeed often have low status in society, the contribution they make to society is highly valuable. Often it is they who are the creative ones, the ones able to think outside the box, the scientists, the researchers, the artists, the musicians etc. Understanding that our hypersensitivity naturally tends to become less as we grow older helps us to cope with the hardships it brings us in the present and helps us not get too depressed about our current condition and suffering.
        Perhaps most importantly, I think this evolutionary approach has the potential to help us develop a much clearer picture of what exactly we can change, and what we can’t change about ourselves and our stuttering. Such knowledge can potentially save us from our tendency to knock our heads against a brick wall… trying to achieve the impossible. In this regard, I’m reminded of the prayer by Niebuhr prayer… “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” In my experience, the more I become able to identify and accept my limitations, the less I experience them to be limitations. Indeed, somewhat paradoxically, through finding a theoretical basis that has enable me to accept my limitations, I have started to perceive many of those limitations as strengths.
        Having said all that, it is important to remember that it is just a theory. I don’t imagine that academic researchers will test it anytime soon, but nevertheless each one of us can test it by observing how well it fits with our own experiences in our own lives.

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      2. Thanks for the valuable inputs Paul ….but please if I may rephrase my observation …because I as a matter of fact am immensely interested /fascinated by the spontaneous recovery in “children ” …that’s what is intriguing to me …I didn’t get to read any revelations from your theories in this aspect…. ….spontaneous recovery in adults …hmmmmm lots of things to debate about this fact 😉
        Now coming back …its the prevalence of spontaneous recovery of Children we must delve really deep into …both physiologically and psychoanalytically perhaps ( though I personally am biased towards simple logical explanations hence gravitating towards human neuronal physiology more than psychoanalytical theories….
        Spontaneous recovery in Children ….that’s where I’ll put all my bets upon 🙂 …for two reasons ..1. It stares down on our face 2. It gives us hope that ..the limitations we put on ourselves are in the end what we are ” hypothesizing /theorising ” …..they mean nothing till QED ….to each its own till then …
        For example my personal life experiences prove to me that my fluency comes as a byproduct ..when I am least trying to be fluent ….when I am totally and 100 % present IN the moment so much so that I just seem to forget that I ever had stutter …that’s when the magic of fluency happens !
        I would theorise it so … maybe in these moments my amygdala doesn’t get any airtime value to go live ! why should I put a cap or a limit on this wonderful phenomenon ….instead I chose to work amicably with the nonproductive learned Fear behaviours and perhaps limit that out …. and hence be liberated from the self imposed limitations …….
        Cheers and Peace

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      3. Hi Anu,
        Thanks for your response. Concerning spontaneous recovery in young children, it’s worth bearing in mind that all young children go through a period of relative dysfluency between the age of 2,5 and 5 years of age. This dysfluency coincides with the stage in their language development where they are learning to use multi-word utterances and grammatical morphemes. Before 2,5 years, when children are still at the “one-word” stage, children are relatively fluent and signs of stuttering are very rare.
        It is quite possible that the high numbers of dysfluencies that arise between the age of 2,5 and 5 years may cause a reaction in the children’s parents – or indeed directly in the child himself – which undermines the child’s confidence in his ability to speak well enough.
        Around 5 years of age, once children have mastered the use of multi-word utterances and grammatical morphemes and become able to quickly and easily formulate grammatically-correct utterances, their fluency levels normally increase noticeably. When this happens, most parents and most children stop worrying about their speech and symptoms of stuttering (if they are present) more often than not disappear. Only in a very small percentage of children does this spontaneous recovery not happen. My suspicion is that the main reason it sometimes does not happen is because some children effectively become traumatised by the experience of their increased dysfluencies (and their parents reactions to them), and so develop an anticipatory anxiety response that sustains their stuttering – as a sort of vicious circle. This is most likely to happen in the small percentage of children who are genetically predisposed to be highly sensitive/reactive. And I think this genetic predisposition may continue to occur because, as Matt suggests, it fulfils a useful role for the survival of the group.
        I think this explanation is broadly compatible with your own observations, as noted in your last response.

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  3. Hi Matt,
    It would certainly be interesting to get in contact with Stevens and Price. Their book, Evolutionary Psychiatry, is a fascinating read. It basically puts forward the idea that many psychological conditions and disorders are in fact adaptations that benefit the species as a whole, but not necessarily all the individuals of that species. In terms of human evolution, they identify two separate axes of psychological variation, leading to two fundamental types of disorder… (1) “disorders of rank” and (2) “spacing disorders”. Basically, the idea is that humans are social animals that in our recent evolutionary past have always tended to live in groups of not more than about 100 individuals. Because groups’ normal social structure is hierarchical, the ranking mechanism helps to determine an individual’s place in the hierarchy of the group. The normal functioning of this mechanism prevents unnecessary conflict and fighting. Common undesirable side-effects include depression and the related difficulty executing motor commands in certain circumstances.
    The other axis is also of interest… it regulates “spacing” – which is essentially the tendency of groups to split up when they reach a certain size. The idea is that there are genes that regulate the tendency to conform to the social group’s social and perceptual norms. So, in any one group, there are a range of people, most of whom perceive reality in the way that is normal for the group and are easily able to function within its social structure, and others who perceive differently, and have difficulty adapting to the prevailing social structure. The conformists tend to consider the people who perceive differently to be psychotic and tend to reject them (and their ideas). The rejected individuals have a tendency to distance themselves from the mainstream and to form their own competing groups. If a competing group is viable, it then splits off and becomes independent.
    I find these ideas fascinating, not least because they seem to describe some of my personal experiences. However, Stevens and Price’s book has been criticized as being too theoretical and not sufficiently backed up by experimental evidence. One of the problems of evolutionary theory is that much of it is practically impossible to test experimentally, so it tends to be overlooked. All the same, I do think the hypotheses have a potentially useful role to play in helping individuals form more positive interpretations of their conditions. Also, they can highlight possible courses of action that may lead to positive outcomes. Particularly interesting in relation to the two axes I just described is the possibility that a person who is only able to attain a relatively low status in the group he has been born into may nevertheless manage to achieve a much higher status in a new group – especially if he is one of the founder members of the new group. This hypothesis may be of direct relevance to stuttering, inasmuch as people who stutter may find that by abandoning their current social group and forming a new one, their higher status within the new group may lead to remission of their stuttering.
    Anyway, yes, we must talk again soon. The tourist season will come to an end in September, then I’ll be free to devote more time to all of this.

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    1. Hi Paul,

      Thanks as always for another comment with great points. That book as I’ve said sounds like a very interesting one and seems to align with the assertion that species often develop for the benefit of the whole and not the individual. This is a linchpin as you know to the assertion made in the past two posts on here that stuttering is of value to the species as a whole, but may be to the detriment of the individual.

      Groups, hierarchies, sociality, and organization are very clearly huge components of the human species. The dynamics this creates and the value on various traits evolution selects for certainly interacts with keeping these dynamics where they need to be to function as a whole. It’s unfortunate that it is difficult to test evolutionary hypotheses. In essence, evolution itself is still a theory for the profoundly close-minded who need a direct and written study that proves something beyond the shred of a doubt. Certain subjects are just not able to be studied and proven in this way.

      As has been noted, and you know, the stuttering ratio in regards to gender is 4:1 male:female. As males throughout the tribal portions of human history (the vast majority of our existence) part-take in hierarchy more so this would make sense that stuttering has interplay with hierarchy etc. In addition, a compelling point I forgot to mention in the piece is that another non-mammalian species has been show to stutter in zebra finches. Due to the zebra finch being quite distant on the evolutionary tree from humans and mammals, the existence of stuttering in zebra finches further compels the fact that it may have an evolutionary value. Zebra finches are also communicative, social, and hierarchical.

      Much more to discuss on this topic. There are certain several avenues to explore in regards to implementing treatment mmethodlogies that are informed by this hypothesis. As we know, often times when people “play a character” in a play or movie their stuttering vanishes. In this way, when they are no longer playing the role of “the self”, stuttering lies dormant. Treatment approaches that incorporate role changing and viewing one’s self differently in roles has potential.

      Stay well and talk soon!

      Kindly,
      Matt

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