Autonomic nervous system activity of preschool-age children who stutter

Robin M. Jones, Anthony P. Buhr, Edward G. Conture, Victoria Tumanova, Tedra A. Walden, Stephen W. Porges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to investigate potential differences in autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity to emotional stimuli between preschool-age children who do (CWS) and do not stutter (CWNS). Methods: Participants were 20 preschool-age CWS (15 male) and 21 preschool-age CWNS (11 male). Participants were exposed to two emotion-inducing video clips (negative and positive) with neutral clips used to establish pre-and post-arousal baselines, and followed by age-appropriate speaking tasks. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)-often used as an index of parasympathetic activity-and skin conductance level (SCL)-often used as an index of sympathetic activity-were measured while participants listened to/watched the audio-video clip presentation and performed a speaking task. Results: CWS, compared to CWNS, displayed lower amplitude RSA at baseline and higher SCL during a speaking task following the positive, compared to the negative, condition. During speaking, only CWS had a significant positive relation between RSA and SCL. Conclusion: Present findings suggest that preschool-age CWS, when compared to their normally fluent peers, have a physiological state that is characterized by a greater vulnerability to emotional reactivity (i.e., lower RSA indexing less parasympathetic tone) and a greater mobilization of resources in support of emotional reactivity (i.e., higher SCL indexing more sympathetic activity) during positive conditions. Thus, while reducing stuttering to a pure physiological process is unwarranted, the present findings suggest that the autonomic nervous system is involved.Educational Objectives: The reader will be able to: (a) summarize current empirical evidence on the role of emotion in childhood stuttering; (b) describe physiological indexes of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity; (c) summarize how preschool-age children who stutter differ from preschool-age children who do not stutter in autonomic activity; (d) discuss possible implications of current findings in relation to the development of childhood stuttering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-31
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Fluency Disorders
Issue numberC
StatePublished - 2014


  • Preschool-age
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia
  • Skin conductance
  • Stuttering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing
  • LPN and LVN


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