May 5, 2016

SEC Faculty Travel Visit Focuses on Stuttering

Dr. Coalson from LSU presents his research to a group of Vanderbilt Ph.D. students during his visit
Dr. Coalson from LSU presents his research to a group of Vanderbilt Ph.D. students during his visit

By: Bryant Welbourne
SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)

If you have ever met someone who stutters, you probably have wondered why they suffer from the communication disorder. According to The Stuttering Foundation, five percent of all children will go through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or more. Around 75 percent of those children will recover by late childhood through speech therapy or simply “growing out of it.” But there are an estimated three million American adults who continue to stutter, and causes are still unknown.

During a recent SEC Faculty Travel Program visit, Dr. Geoffrey Coalson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Louisiana State University, traveled to Nashville to meet with Dr. Robin Jones, Assistant Professor in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, to continue investigating two different cognitive processes and how they relate to stuttering.

“My research focuses on working memory in people who stutter and how well they retain new information,” said Dr. Coalson. “Some recent research shows there is a correlation between working memory and regulation of behavior, and that’s where Dr. Jones comes in because his research focuses on behavioral inhibition.”

The two, who first met at Vanderbilt when Coalson was working on his master’s degree and Jones was in a doctoral program, believe working memory and emotion affect stuttering. The visit allowed Dr. Jones, whose work focuses on children, and Dr. Coalson, who specializes in adulthood stuttering, to compare research and look for links that may contribute to the continuation of the disorder throughout a person’s life.

“There isn’t one definitive answer as to why people stutter,” said Dr. Jones. “That is why we want to look into these cognitive processes so we can better understand the triggers and if they will persist over time.”

The collaboration visit started with Dr. Jones guiding a tour of his research lab. The lab included rooms where children’s speech-language and emotional characteristics are measured in various experimental procedures. Researchers are able to observe behavior in a separate room while the exercises are conducted.

Following the tour, Dr. Coalson met with several Vanderbilt Ph.D. students and demonstrated computer programs he uses to test working memory. The tests provide data through a series of exercises where questions in one exercise are repeated during a time when new questions are introduced.

“The goal of our work is to better inform clinicians about how to tailor treatment,” said Dr. Coalson. “As people who stutter will tell you, there are underlying factors that differ and we want to take all of those into account so speech pathologists can provide the best treatment for individuals.”

Dr. Coalson’s and Dr. Jones’ visit was funded by the SEC Faculty Travel Program that is administered by SECU, the academic initiative of the Southeastern Conference. SECU works to support and promote the academic endeavors of the students and faculty at the conference’s member institutions.

“It’s very exciting to be able to compare research through our visit,” said Dr. Jones. “I believe the most innovative discoveries occur when we have cross-institution collaborations, and we’re honored to participate in the SEC Faculty Travel Program.”