Children who stutter show reduced action-related activity in the rostral cingulate zone

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Abstract

Previous studies have indicated that children who stutter show not only speech-related problems, but also wider difficulties in self-control. In this study we test the novel hypothesis that children who stutter may experience difficulties with inhibitory control over voluntary actions. We used functional MRI to compare brain activity between children who stutter and children who do not stutter in a task that captures key cognitive aspects of voluntary action control. Participants performed a rolling marble task, in which they were instructed to press a key to stop a rolling marble from crashing on some of the trials (instructed action condition). They were also asked to choose voluntarily whether to execute or inhibit this prepotent response in other trials (volition condition). Children who stutter reported less motor and cognitive impulsivity and had shorter stop-signal reaction times when controlled for IQ, consistent with greater inhibition, compared to children who do not stutter. At the neural level, children who stutter showed decreased activation in the rostral cingulate zone during voluntary action selection compared to children who do not stutter. This effect was more pronounced for children who were rated as showing more stuttered syllables in the stutter screening, and was furthermore correlated with stop-signal reaction times and impulsivity ratings. These findings suggest that stuttering in childhood could reflect wider difficulties in self-control, also in the non-verbal domain. Understanding these neural mechanisms could potentially lead to more focused treatments of stuttering.

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