Emotional Reactivity

Findings of a research study into the emotional reactivity of adults who stammer.

Last year (2019) we put up a notice from Sian Santry, a student at the University of Reading. Sian was looking for people to take part in her dissertation project for her MSc in speech & language therapy. With the study now over, she tells us of her findings, below.

aims

This study aimed to investigate levels of 'emotional reactivity' in adults who stammer, compared to adults who do not stammer. Emotional reactivity describes how easily and intensely people feel an emotion in response to an event, for example the feeling of embarrassment after falling over in public.

Emotional reactivity is a psychological characteristic that varies between different people. Stammering is a complex speech fluency disorder that is thought to have several possible underlying factors, including some psychological characteristics.

It is important to investigate which factors are likely to play a part in the development of stammering, as knowledge about this can contribute to our understanding of the condition and inform therapy approaches that aim to reduce the negative impact that stammering can have on a person.

Previous research

Previous research has investigated emotional reactivity differences between children who do and do not stammer. That research found that children who stammer had significantly greater levels of emotional reactivity than those who did not stammer. This indicates that emotional reactivity may play a role in childhood stammering.

One theory of this role is that a greater negative emotional reaction to an instance of dysfluency increases the likelihood of subsequent dysfluency, which evokes further negative emotion, in a cyclical fashion.

Previous research investigating emotional reactivity and stammering in adults is much more limited, and has found more conflicting results. Following this, the main aim of this study was to add to existing research by investigating whether emotional reactivity is different in adults who do and do not stammer.

Methodology

Participants were recruited by an advertisement on this website and social media. Participants were asked to complete an online questionnaire. This consisted of several demographic information questions such as age and native language, followed by multiple choice questions. These questions asked them to rate how applicable 30 statements relating to emotional reactivity were to them. For example 'I tend to get upset very easily', 'When I am joyful, I tend to feel it very deeply'. These were rated on a scale between 'very unlike me' and 'very like me'.

The study utilised the 'Perth Emotional Reactivity Scale' (PERS), devised by Becerra et al. (2017), as a tool to measure purely the psychological characteristic of emotional reactivity.

My findings

Once enough data had been collected, including responses from 35 adults who stammer and 30 adults who do not stammer, it was analysed according to several different aspects of emotional reactivity, as measured by the PERS scale.

  • No significant difference was found between adults who stammer and adults who do not stammer on the main aspect of interest: overall emotional reactivity.
  • There was also no significant difference of emotional reactivity related to purely positive or purely negative emotional reactions.
  • Finally there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of how intensely emotions are felt, nor how long they are felt for.
  • However, it did find a significant difference between adults who do and do not stammer in terms of how easily an emotional response is activated in response to an event, with adults who stammer reporting to have emotional responses triggered more easily than adults who do not stammer.

This is an initial finding that would need to be supported by subsequent studies, perhaps with larger numbers of participants. However, if this finding is valid, there is the possibility that the measurement of levels of emotional activation in the assessment of stammering may inform and benefit the effectiveness of subsequent intervention approaches. For example, if it was found that an adult who stammered had very high emotional activation levels, this could be incorporated into an approach that could look at reducing this in order to reduce the likelihood of it contributing to future stammering. This is an area that would benefit from further research.

Thank you to Stamma and to all participants for kindly giving up their time in order to make this study possible.

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