Cultural influence on listener responses to stuttering

ECU Author/Contributor (non-ECU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jianliang Zhang (Creator)
East Carolina University (ECU )
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Abstract: Stuttering is a developmental, involuntary, and intermittent fluency disorder. During moments of stuttering, people who stutter demonstrate sudden onsets and offsets of the aberrant struggling behaviors, with primary behaviors affecting mainly speech organs and secondary, ancillary behaviors affecting more distal body parts. Listeners generally respond to stuttering behaviors with negative emotional arousal that is manifested at behavioral, physiological, and emotional levels, and tend to attribute negative, stereotypical personality traits to people who stutter. These listener responses can be an important factor in the development and maintenance of stuttering. Therefore, the nature and properties of listener responses, e.g., the role of culture in shaping listener responses to stuttering, merit further examination.  Culture refers to the characteristics of various groups of people relative to their material traits, social norms, beliefs, attitudes, and values. The value system is believed by many researchers to be the core of most cultural variations. Along with individual biological disposition, culture regulates how people perceive, explain, and respond to various phenomena. Numerous studies have converged to indicate significant contrasts between Easterners and Westerners in cognitions, emotions, and behaviors. In the United States, European-American and African-Americans also show differences in their value systems and many other aspects.   The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate listener responses to stuttering in ethno-racially different groups. Specifically, the investigation focused on listeners' eye gaze responses and physiological responses when witnessing stuttering, and their perceptions toward people who stutter before and after observing stuttering. Participants were recruited from three groups: African-Americans, Chinese, and European-Americans. Results indicated that generally, listeners responded to stuttering in a similar manner at physiological, behavioral, and attitudinal levels. That is, listeners showed increased skin conductance and decreased heart rate in response to stuttering rather than fluent speech; listeners focused more on the speaker's mouth, and reduced their gaze fixation duration on the eyes, when the speaker stuttered. Furthermore, listeners had generally negative perceptions toward people who stutter, and these perceptions did not change significantly with exposure to stuttering. Cultural differences were found mainly between Chinese and American listeners in gaze behaviors and perceptions. Chinese tended to explore the background information while Americans tended to focus on the speaker's eyes and mouth, and Chinese participants considered the people who stutter duller than the normally fluent speaker while Americans did not show such a perception. The interaction of culture by fluency indicated that, when Americans focused more of their gaze on the speaker's mouth when the speaker stuttered, Chinese participants reduced their gaze on the mouth; also, whereas African-Americans considered the stuttering speaker to be more self-derogatory demeanor after observing the stuttering speech, Chinese participants judged the speaker as carrying the same degree of self-derogatory compared to normally fluent speakers, and European-Americans considered the personality trait weakened after witnessing stuttering.  These results indicated that generally, stuttering is able to evoke negative emotional arousal in listeners, regardless of the listener's cultural background. These negative arousals can be manifested at behavioral, physiological, and attitudinal levels. Culture plays a role in regulating some aspects of these negative responses, suggesting that people who stutter in Chinese or African-American societies may undergo more severe social penalties for their stuttering, compared to those in European-American culture. Results from this study have implications in the treatment of people who stutter, and provide quantitative data for stuttering help groups to develop culture-specific strategies to raise social awareness of stuttering.  

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Language: English
Date: 2010

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