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30-05-2012 | Speech-language pathology | Article

Cultural differences highlighted in gaze responses to stuttering speech


Free abstract

MedWire News: There are significant cultural differences in gaze patterns in terms of how a person listens to and observes a stuttering speaker, report US researchers.

This is because listeners to stuttering speakers tend to shift their gaze from the eyes to the mouth and look less at the background compared with people listening to fluent speakers.

It has been suggested that stuttering is a social disorder with strong social or emotional involvement, and the dynamic interaction between persons who stutter (PWS) and listeners during communication is of particular interest. However, the exact nature of responses to PWS and whether and how cultural backgrounds influence gaze responses have not been fully explored.

A team led by Jianliang Zhang, from North Carolina Central University, Durham, therefore recruited 18 African-American, 18 European-American, and 18 Chinese healthy individuals, monitoring their responses to 60-second segments of videoed speech samples by PWS, which had been rated regarding the severity of stutter, whether absent, moderate, or severe, using the Stuttering Severity Instrument.

Specifically, a gaze-tracking system was used to assess the listeners' percent of time, gaze-fixation count, and average fixation duration for each of four regions of interest (ROI) on the speaker videos: eyes, nose, mouth, and outside, which included the background, neck, ears, hair, etc.

The team reports in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders that stuttering speech, compared with fluent speech, was associated with more time looking at the speaker's mouth, which was accompanied by a simultaneous reduction in outside ROI watching.

Compared with EuropeanAmericans, Chinese participants spent less time on a speaker's eyes and nose but more time on the outside, while African-Americans spent less time on a speaker's nose. Interestingly, while both American groups increased their gaze time on the mouth in response to stuttering speech, Chinese individuals reduced their gaze time on this area.

Overall, listeners' gaze fixation on the speaker's eyes was reduced during stuttering speech versus fluent speech. Chinese individuals demonstrated significantly reduced gaze fixation duration on the eyes compared with European-Americans and significantly increased fixation duration on the outside versus African-Americans.

The team concludes: "First, this study demonstrated how fluency made a difference in listeners' gaze responses...This information would be useful for charity groups and self-help groups for stuttering regarding their advice for the general public."

They add: "Secondly, this study provided empirical evidence that listeners from different cultural backgrounds responded to stuttering in different manners."

By Liam Davenport

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