Effects of different attention tasks on concurrent speech in adults who stutter and fluent controls


Purpose:: Motor theories indicate that focusing attention on well-practiced movements interferes with skilled performance; however, specific forms of attention (alerting vs. orienting vs. executive control) associated with this effect are not well understood. The present study explored this question in relation to stuttering, and examined whether dual task conditions that engaged sustained attention or working memory (WM) affected speech fluency in different ways. We also considered whether fluency changes were associated with changes in speech rate and language. Methods:: Nineteen adults who stutter (AWS) and 20 controls produced spontaneous speech under a baseline condition and two dual task conditions: one involving a sustained attention task, the other involving WM demands. Results:: Both groups produced fewer stutter-like disfluencies under dual task relative to baseline conditions and this reduction did not differ between the two dual tasks (attention vs. WM). Speech rate and language variables, which were potentially influenced by attention conditions, were not affected by dual tasks in the same way as disfluencies, and appeared to be unassociated with fluency results. Conclusions:: Findings indicate that atypical disfluencies decrease when attention is divided, even when secondary task demands are minimal, as they were in the sustained attention task. For simple secondary tasks, fluency changes do not appear to be a byproduct of slowed rate and are not accompanied by observable changes in language. These results demonstrate that simple manipulations of attention can induce measurable effects on aspects of speech production, and may be a useful tool for facilitating fluency in clinical intervention.

Publication Title

Journal of Fluency Disorders