Deficits in Rhythm Processing Connected to Stuttering Songbirds May Hold the Key

Posted on: May 28, 2013


Zebra finches may hold the key to discovering the biological source of stuttering, which affects three million Americans.

A team of Michigan State University scientists will investigate the brain and behavior of the zebra finch to determine if stuttering stems from a lack of rhythm.

Two assistant professors from the Department of Communicative Sciences & Disorders, Laura Dilley and Soo-Eun Chang, are involved in this study. Dilley is an expert in the development of speech and language skills while Chang’s expertise lies in speech production and the neural bases of stuttering in children.  

Leading the research is J. Devin McAuley, Associate Professor in MSU's Department of Psychology and director of the Cognitive Science Program, along with professor and chair for the Department of Psychology, Juli Wade.

The theory is that stuttering is caused by the brain’s inability to process rhythm, or an internal beat, when speaking. It is supported by the fact that stutterers often lose their stutter when singing or speaking along with a metronome, providing an external beat. Songbirds such as zebra finches are vocal learners, like humans, and could serve as a model for rhythm processing that occurs in the brain.

This fascinating research project was the focus of a recent article posted on MSU Today.



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