The estimated 70 million people worldwide believed to have a stutter just got a little closer to understanding the cause of their unintentional verbal tick. Scientists may have discovered why we stutter — or at least what’s happening in the brains of those who do stutter.
A study put together by researchers at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and published in the journal Human Brain Mapping looked at blood flow through various regions in the brain. During the study, researchers noticed that circulation through certain areas of the brain associated with language is more restricted in subjects who stutter.
“Blood flow was inversely correlated to the degree of stuttering — the more severe the stuttering, the less blood flow to this part of the brain,” study author Jay Desai, a clinical neurologist at CHLA, told Science Daily.
Basically, the less blood flow to a person’s Broca’s area (the main part of the brain that processes language), the less neural activity in that area, and the worse a person’s stuttering. What’s more, if there is consistent, restricted blood flow to other language-related regions of the brain, the stuttering gets worse.
Some begin stuttering early on in childhood, while others develop a stutter in adulthood. And for a long time, we held the collective belief that it was a psychosomatic disorder (being caused by a “mental block”), but this new science suggests there are more physical factors at play.
Stuttering is sometimes overcome through speech therapy or can even go away on its own, and other times it’s just there forever. As to what can be done to improve blood flow to these language-dedicated areas of the brain and reduce stuttering, the jury’s still out.