Honors Theses

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Communication Sciences and Disorders

First Advisor

Greg Snyder

Relational Format



Persistent developmental stuttering is generally considered to be a speech disorder characterized by repetitions, prolongations and postural fixations, and is relatively resistant to therapy. While mainstream stuttering therapy continues to rely on behavioral speech targets, recent research suggests that mirror neuron systems can be activated to temporarily induce natural sounding fluent speech in those who stutter via exposure to second speech signals. Despite the prevalence of speech-motor based stuttering treatments, a unified account of how and why fluency is enhanced through endogenous methods remains elusive. The purpose of these two exploratory studies is to further test the validity of the mirror neuron systems, relative to stuttering, by examining the potential role of action understanding on fluency enhancement via (1) different levels of similarity between endogenous gestural priming and the production of targeted speech gestures and (2) producing and perceiving an initiating silent opening oral gesture Study data support that endogenous gestural priming enhances fluency in those who stutter, with differential efficacy proportional to the similarity between gestural prime and targeted speech gesture. Additionally, data support that both the production and perception of initiatory gestural priming significantly enhance fluency. Coupled with existing research, these data suggest that fluency enhancement occurs through the activation of action understanding achieved through mirror neuron systems, allowing the speaker to bypass higher-order neural circuits associated with the etiology of stuttering. Data also reveal that overt stuttering behaviors are compensatory and corrective distal manifestations attempting to initiate the target speech gesture by circumventing an underlying higher-order block at the central level.

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