The role of attentional processes in monolingual and bilingual children who do and do not stutter.

01 October 2022 → 30 September 2026
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Cognitive processes
  • Medical and health sciences
    • Speech and language therapy
    • Speech, language and hearing sciences not elsewhere classified
bilingualism developmental stuttering attention
Project description

Stuttering is a multifactorial speech disorder that can develop in speakers of all languages. Left untreated, stuttering can lead to deleterious academic, emotional, social, and vocational consequences. While stuttering is known to be exhibited by monolingual speakers, stuttering is also exhibited by bilingual speakers. There is no difference in the prevalence of stuttering in speakers of one versus multiple languages, but there is a general understanding among clinicians and researchers alike that bilingual speakers who do not stutter are markedly more disfluent than monolingual speakers; however, there is far less understanding of the underlying reason(s) for this phenomenon. Given the increasing rate of bilingualism in Europe, there is a strong need to determine the underlying processes contributing to these disfluencies in both monolingual and bilingual speakers. Thus, the present proposal addresses this gap in our understanding of bilingualism and stuttering, an unaddressed problem of ever-increasing, significant clinical relevance.

Specifically, the current study is a cross-section experimental investigation of attentional processes in monolingual and bilingual school-age children who do and do not stutter. Attentional processes have been increasingly shown to be associated with stuttering in monolingual individuals, but there is limited information regarding the impact attention may have on stuttering in bilingual individuals – a population who must manipulate their attention in a distinct manner by shifting and refocusing from one language to another and back again. To guide the proposed study, we will employ Posner’s neurocognitive model of attention as their conceptual framework. In brief, this model suggests that attentional processes involve three separable attention networks – alerting, orienting and executive control. Each of these three attentional networks will be experimentally tested using a well-studied, age-appropriate experimental paradigm (i.e., Attentional Network Test). Findings from this testing will help determine which role attentional processes play in the onset of speech disfluencies, whether attentional processes differ between bilingual children who do and do not stutter, and whether the patterns manifested in bilinguals are similar to what has been documented in monolinguals.

The proposed project builds on our preliminary findings which support the development of falsifiable hypotheses to probe Posner’s neurocognitive model of attention. Experimentally testing these hypotheses will probe major constructs of attention, providing a comprehensive determination of how attention may be associated with stuttering as well as the unusually high frequency of typical disfluencies in bilingual children. Our preliminary findings regarding bilingualism and stuttering provide relevant experience and knowledge that should help determine whether attentional processes differentiate between bilingual children who do and do not stutter. Findings from the proposed project should help ground the study of speech disfluencies, stuttering and bilingualism within the broader context of domain-general (i.e., attentional) processes. This will contribute to future research studying diagnostic and treatment protocols for bilingual children known or suspected to stutter.