Inducing stuttering
March 15, 2003 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Stuttering In 1937, Professor Wendell Johnson, a stutterer, designed an experiment to induce stuttering in a group of normal youngsters. Things didn't quite work out as planned. An interesting longish read from the NY Times magazine.
posted by dydecker (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That is interesting. What a confusing phenomenon stammering is.
posted by mokey at 8:46 AM on March 15, 2003

oh god. how could anyone do that? Suppose the experiments had validated his theory. In the best case scenario, normally fluent children would be made to stutter?

I'm a scientist and we often complain about the elaborate consent forms required for even the simplest studies, but after reading this I certainly understand why all that bureaucracy was put in to place.
posted by synapse at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2003

link isnt working.
posted by Espoo2 at 9:32 AM on March 15, 2003

This reminds me of the case of the doctor who believed that SIDS was caused by apnea and whose theories - even after studies had shown that they were not well founded - continued to be one of the leading factors in how SIDS was diagnosed and treated. In that case, it's possible that many child murders went undetected, and it's almost impossible to calculate how much money was spent on preventative "monitoring" and other treatments that was, in essence, wasted.

It's a serious problem when a scientist become so attached to a theory that even when clinical research fails to uphold the theory, they still stick to it, and do whatever they can to essentially bury the results. (Not to mention the fact that in this particular situation, the doctors fascination with his theory on stuttering led him to damage the lives of these children - something that is completely inexcusable)
posted by thorswitch at 10:18 AM on March 15, 2003

Agreed- it is inexcusable. All the same- botched as the experiment was- one can still draw relevant conclusions from it. The child psyche is delicate and malleable- I guess that's not exactly "news" and yet people seem to overlook the fact and neglect all too often. Unfortunate as the experiment's consequences were- it's incredible to see how it reinforces the value of positive encouragement. The article stated that one of the young girls showed a reaction on just her second visit with Tudor- already she was being quiet, very self-conscious. From what I understand, not only stuttering will induce such results. Shyness, over all self-esteem, etc... When a kid is noticed to be somewhat reserved, and someone comments "What a shy kid. What's his problem?" or even "What a shy kid. How cute.", the latter though seemingly not a negative comment will promote shyness just as readily as the former because the kid will understand that he or she is "shy", and he or she will accept all the word's implications with it, ie. that he or she must not be like "normal" kids, must be less socially adept, doesn't know how to act like other kids should.

It seems that the appropriate way to approach a kid like that is with nothing less than constructive comments. "He/She handles social situations very well, I'm impressed." "Look how much the other kids like him/her."

It's common knowledge that children are emotionally fragile and impressionable. When will people begin to take that into account on an everyday basis? Many teachers, day-cares, PARENTS, certainly don't.
posted by degnarra at 10:50 AM on March 15, 2003

Please consider the emotional scarring from being named Wendell (may not apply to Wendell Barry).
posted by wendell at 11:39 AM on March 15, 2003

I know it's a serious subject, but all I keep thinking of is:

"L-l-l-look! It's K-k-k-k-ken! C-c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me!"

(Academy award winning dialog...)
posted by jpburns at 12:08 PM on March 15, 2003

I have occasional episodes of stammering (I'm especially bad with voicemail, leaving messages that bounce around logically and walking over my own words, often getting worse as the message goes on, until hitting 'send' is a release), but although I don't think of myself as a stutterer, I've been told that others have gained that impression -- which has had a disquieting effect. My most recent job I had to pick up messages from a succession of receptionists who only knew me as "the _____ guy", and I invariably seemed to give each of them, the first time, the impression that I was there to leave a message for myself. The more this happened, the more likely it seemed to happen.

There's also a correlation with how social I've been recently and how objectively depressed I am.

Anyway, regarding the social image of human testing, I was disappointed recently to see an Everybody Loves Raymond re-run where the brother Robert, taking a police psychology class, gives Raymond and wife Debra an intelligence test, then deliberately switches the results -- because for him the class project is seeing what happens when you deceive people. Hilarity, of course, ensues, and I go on to wonder why people believe this is standard procedure rather than an egregious violation of ethical rules.
posted by dhartung at 12:44 PM on March 15, 2003


Why don't you write down what you need to say, and then read it into the phone?
posted by delmoi at 1:20 PM on March 15, 2003

Despite the conclusions of the article, a lot of stuttering must be learned, not just a severed neuron. My university professor stuttered terribly when he lectured to three hundred people, but one on one he was fine. Likewise, dhartung's problem's with voicemail. It's like the situation causes the stutter to resurface.

It just proves to me how much language production is doesn't take place in a vacuum.

Likewise with accents, lisps etc (A friend of mine grew up in America and speaks English with a NZ accent but when she reads out loud, she sounds like she's from Texas). It's almost like the speech comes not from you, but from your experience of the situation)
posted by dydecker at 2:12 PM on March 15, 2003

Wendell Johnson's son, Nicholas Johnson, teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law. He has a memorial home page for his father online, as well as a paper prepared for a Symposium on Ethics and The Tudor Study. I'm not sure that I agree with his opinion on consent for the study, but it's interesting to see the story from a different perspective.
posted by bragadocchio at 3:56 PM on March 15, 2003

[...]I'm especially bad with voicemail[...]

I have a terrible time with voicemail; I feel like I'm suddenly floating in a sensory deprivation chamber, chattering into a featurless void - and my speech soon dissolves into timid, lurching uncertainty. I need feedback when I'm talking; I like my spoken words to reflect back from living, responsive targets - otherwise, I'm a deaf guy trying to whistle a tune.

Of course, I can talk to myself just fine - so long as I do myself the courtesy of listening.

There's also a correlation with how social I've been recently and how objectively depressed I am.

I'm not sure I can fully parse this statement, but if you are saying that you are currently somewhat depressed, I gotta go all ironic and tell you that I've liked you better lately.

It's swell of Wendell's son to devise a defense of the Tudor study. Still, the study's raison d'etre was that it might be possible to induce stuttering, and the science of the day could not guarantee that such induced stuttering could ever be reversed - much less reversed without consequence - so the word that still springs to mind is 'unforgivable' - regardless of the ambiguities associated with situational ethical analysis.
posted by Opus Dark at 4:32 PM on March 15, 2003

SpeechEasy is a device that stutters wear like a hearing aid. An explanation from their website:

For years, it has been known that people who stutter tend to become more fluent when they speak in unison with another person. This phenomenon, known as the ‘choral effect’, can be seen when a person who stutters becomes more fluent while singing in a choir or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance within a crowd.

Through the use of Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF) and Frequency Altered Feedback (FAF), SpeechEasy™ effectively creates the illusion of another person speaking in unison with the user. By emulating this ‘choral speech’ pattern, a SpeechEasy™ user can become 50 – 95% more fluent.

My girlfriend saw a spot about this device on a talk show a week or two ago, Google supplied the details. Apparently there are a number of such devices available and it seems they vary in how well they work for people. This page has a video of a product demonstration.

Hopefully nobody will go Pepsi Blue on me for posting a link to a product. I think it's an interesting use of technology.
posted by boredomjockey at 10:17 PM on March 16, 2003

...that stutterers wear like a hearing aid. Sorry, it's late.
posted by boredomjockey at 10:18 PM on March 16, 2003

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