Purpose Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were used to investigate the neural correlates of emotion processing in 5- to 8-year-old children who do and do not stutter.
Methods Participants were presented with an audio contextual cue followed by images of threatening (angry/fearful) and neutral facial expressions from similarly aged peers. Three conditions differed in audio-image pairing: neutral context-neutral expression (neutral condition), negative context-threatening expression (threat condition), and reappraisal context-threatening expression (reappraisal condition). These conditions reflected social stimuli that are ecologically valid to the everyday life of children.
Results P100, N170, and late positive potential (LPP) ERP components were elicited over parietal and occipital electrodes. The threat condition elicited an increased LPP mean amplitude compared to the neutral condition across our participants, suggesting increased emotional reactivity to threatening facial expressions. In addition, LPP amplitude decreased during the reappraisal condition— evidence of emotion regulation. No group differences were observed in the mean amplitude of ERP components between children who do and do not stutter. Furthermore, dimensions of childhood temperament and stuttering severity were not strongly correlated with LPP elicitation.
Conclusion These findings are suggestive that, at this young age, children who stutter exhibit typical brain activation underlying emotional reactivity and regulation to social threat from peer facial expressions.
Developmental stuttering, also known as Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), is a neurodevelopmental disorder typified by the persistent manifestation of disfluent speech production. Negative psychosocial consequences associated with stuttering have been observed soon after onset of the disorder (Ambrose & Yairi, 1994; Boey et al., 2009), and long-term stuttering has been associated with excessive anxiety and reduced well-being (Blumgart, Tran, & Craig, 2014; Craig & Tran, 2014; Iverach, Rapee, Wong, & Lowe, 2017). In addition to speech motor and language factors, multifactoral theories of stuttering acknowledge the contribution of emotion to the etiology and nature of stuttering (Conture & Walden, 2012; Smith & Weber, 2017). Children who stutter (CWS) have been observed to exhibit high levels of autonomic nervous activation during their stuttered speech compared to when they speak fluently (Walsh & Usler, 2019). However, physiological arousal and emotion are not always linked (Mauss, Wilhelm, & Gross, 2004).