2003 IFA Congress: Montreal, Canada

Perceptions of People Who Stutter: Effects of Familiarity

Rodney M. Gabel1, Glen Tellis2, and Matthew T. Althouse3
1Department of Communication Disorders, Bowling Green State University. Bowling Green, OH 43402
2Department of Special Education and Clinical Services, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA I 5 705
3Department of Communication, State University of New York College at Brockport, Brockport, NY 14420

SUMMARY

This study investigated whether familiarity, or knowing a person who stutters, affected the perceptions that individuals reported toward people who stutter. The effect of different levels of familiarity on perceptions toward people who stutter in general was also explored. One hundred and ninety five university students participated in the study. The findings suggested that neither familiarity nor different levels of familiarity had a significant effect on the perceptions that normally fluent speakers reported toward people who stutter. Additionally, the results suggested that the students reported neutral to mildly positive perceptions toward people who stutter.

 

  1. Introduction
Research has demonstrated that a variety of groups of normally fluent speakers report negative perceptions and attitudes towards people who stutter. These groups include speech-language pathologists (SLPS) (Cooper & Cooper, 1996; Turnbaugh et al., 1979), educators (Crowe & Walton, 1981; Dorsey & Guenter, 2000; Yeakle & Cooper, 1986), healthcare professionals (Silverman & Bongey, 1997; Yairi & Carrico, 1992), lay people (Crowe & Cooper, 1977; Ham, 1990), college students (Dorsey & Guenter, 2000; Ruscello et al., 1988; Silverman & Paynter, 1990), employers (Hurst & Cooper, 1983a), and vocational counselors (Hurst & Cooper, 1983b). These findings indicated that people who stutter are perceived as shy, nervous, anxious, withdrawn, self-conscious, tense, hesitant, less-competent, introverted, and insecure. These perceptions form a negative stereotype of people who stutter. Negative stereotypes are problematic in that they often lead to a reduction in vocational, academic, and social opportunities (Crocker et al., 1998; Wright, 1983; Yuker, 1988). It is clear that people who stutter are likely to suffer from these same limitations because of society’s negative attitudes and perceptions.

Due to the potential harmful effects of negative stereotypes, there is a need to identify factors that improve the perceptions that people have toward people who stutter. Several research studieshave found that certain factors can alter perceptions toward people who stutter. For example, studies have found that a person who stutters severely is perceived less positively than a person who stutters mildly (Collins & Blood, 1988; Susca & Healey, 2002; Turnbaugh et al., 1979). Other studies have found that acknowledging or being open about stuttering can improve the perceptions that normally fluent speakers have toward people who stutter (Collins & Blood, 1988; Silverman, 1988). Finally, Craig & Calver (1990) found that employers had improved perceptions toward their employees who stuttered that attended a fluency shaping therapy program. Therefore, it appears as if reduced stuttering severity, acknowledgement of stuttering, and attendance in a therapy program improve the perceptions that normally fluent speaker report toward people who stutter.

Another factor that might positively influence society’s perceptions toward people who stutter is familiarity or knowing a person who stutters. One study by Klassen (2002) explored whether knowing a person who stutters would limit negative perceptions toward people who stutter. If the respondents knew people who stutter, they did not report negative attitudes and stereotypical perceptions toward people who stutter. In addition, the respondents reported more positive perceptions toward a person who stuttered that they knew than toward people who stutter in general. Therefore, it appears as if familiarity reduces the negative perceptions and stereotyping of people who stutter.

The present study was interested in providing further evidence about the effects of familiarity on the perceptions that normally fluent speakers report toward people who stutter. To explore this phenomenon, the following research questions were posed:
  1. Does familiarity affect the perceptions that normally fluent speakers report toward people who stutter’?
  2. Do different levels of familiarity, i.e. knowing a person who stutters very well, well,or not very well, have an effect on the perceptions that normally fluent speakers report toward people who stutter?
  1. Methods
Participants

A convenience sample of 195 students at three universities was recruited to participate in this study. The sample consisted of 145 females and 50 males. The mean age of the participants was 22.04 (sd=4.33).- Participants were recruited from a variety of classes representing a variety of academic majors. Five volunteers, who did not stutter, were trained to recruit potential participants from classes at the three universities. The volunteers were informed about the purpose of the research, were told of the importance of not biasing the potential participants, and were given a standard script that described the purpose of the study and explained three exclusionary criteria to read to each class. Potential participants were asked to exclude themselves from the study if they: (a) were majoring in communication disorders; (b) were people who stutter; (c) had a close family member who stuttered (father, mother, or siblings); or (d) were freshmen.

Procedures

The participants were given a packet containing two questionnaires. The first questionnaire asked the participants to provide background information (academic status and major, age, gender, etc.) and answer two questions regarding their familiarity with people who stutter. For the first question asked participants to report whether they knew a person who stutters. One hundred and five participants reported that they knew a person who stutters and 90 reported that they did not know a person who stutters. The second question asked participants to report how well they knew a person.who stutters using one of three options: (a) not very well, (b) well, or (c) very well. Of the 105 participants who knew a person who stuttered, ll (10%) of the participants reported that they knew person “not very well,” 42 (40%) reported knowing the person “well,” and 52 (50%) reported knowing the person who stuttered “very well.” The responses to these two questions, whether the participants were familiar with a person who stutters and then the level of familiarity that they had with a person who stuttered, were the independent variables for this study.

The other questionnaire measured the participants’ perceptions toward a person who stutters. The participants’ responses to this questionnaire were the dependent variables for this study. The questionnaire was made up of 25 semantic differential scales similar to those used in other studies that identified perceptions toward people who stutter (Turnbaugh et al., 1979; Woods & Williams, 1976). On this questionnaire, the individual items were comprised of 25 adjectives were paired with their 25 antonyms found in dictionary listings (Woods & Williams, 1976). The bipolar pairs were 462 Theory, research and therapy in fluency disorders randomly assigned to the left and right columns in an equal number of items. A seven-point interval appeared between each pair. The intervals were numbered and labeled from each adjective to the middle number: “very much,” “quite a bit,” “slightly,” and “neutral.” Participants were instructed to choose the number closest to the traits that most likely described the scenario in question. The participants’ task was to rate a person who stutters using the 25 adjective scales. To score the scale, all negative responses were placed at the higher value of the scale and all of the positive adjectives were given a lower value. Thus, if an individual felt negatively toward a person who stutters their report was higher (closer to seven) than an individual who felt positively toward the scenario.

Statistical analysis,

The method utilized in this study provided a design that allowed several factors to be investigated simultaneously. To explore the effect of knowing a person who stutters a two (knowing a person; not knowing a person who stutters) by 25 (individual items on the semantic differential scale) multiple analysis of variance (MANOVA) was utilized. To study the effects of levels of familiarity on the perceptions toward a person who stutters, a three (not very well, well, or very well) by 25 (individual items on the semantic differential scale) MANOVA was used. Descriptive statistics, including means and standard deviations, were used to supplement all analysis. The alpha level of .05 was used for all analyses.

  1. Results
Means and standard deviations were calculated for each item on the semantic differential scale based on each of the main effects. These data are summarized in Appendix 1. On these scales, a higher mean score is indicative of a more negative perception of people who stutter. Though there is some variability in the mean scores, visual inspection suggests that a majority of the items had a mean score between 3 and 5. This finding suggests that most of the responses to the items were relatively neutral. Those items that varied from the range of 3 to 5 tended to be on the relatively positive side of the scale. More positive ratings toward the person who stutters were found for the items cooperative-uncooperative, sensitive-insensitive, pleasant-unpleasant, and intelligent-dull. This trend was also true for the mean scores for each of the main effects.

The 2X25 MANOVA was calculated to explore whether familiarity or knowing a person who stuttered had an effect on perceptions toward a person who stutters. This analysis indicated that there was no main effect for familiarity (F21 .123; p=.237). Therefore, there was no significant difference between the perceptions reported by the group of students who reported knowing a person who stutters and the group who reported not knowing a person who stutters. This finding suggests that familiarity did not alter the students’ perceptions toward a person who stutters.

A MANOVA exploring the effects of level of familiarity on the perceptions toward a person who stutters was also conducted. This analysis found that there were no significant differences (F=l.O16; p=.456) between the reports given by the students who knew or did not know a person who stutters. This finding suggests that the students’ perceptions were not altered by the amount they knew a person who stutters.

  1. Discussion

In this study, the respondents reported mean responses on the semantic differential scale that were relatively neutral, with some items suggesting having relatively positive responses, suggesting that the participants believed that a person who stutters is cooperative, sensitive, pleasant, and intelligent. Additionally, it was found that the respondents who knew a person who stutters reported similar perceptions towards a person who stutters as those respondents who did not know a person who stutters. Therefore, these findings do not support the conclusion that familiarity with a person who stutters improves perceptions toward people who stutter in general. This is a difficult finding to understand, because one would expect that becoming familiar with stuttering and a person who stutters would help individuals feel more comfortable with the disorder and help them gain a better understanding of the problem. It would be expected that this comfort or understanding would lead to improvements in perceptions toward people who stutter. The results, however, indicated the opposite phenomenon taking place. The results also indicated that the level of familiarity did not alter the perceptions that the respondents reported toward people who stutter in general. This finding is also surprising, given that one would expect that individuals who know a person who stutters well or very well should have a different experience with a person who stutters than those who did not know a person who stutters very well.

The findings of this study appear to be different than those found by Klassen (2002). In Klassen’s study, the individuals who knew a person who stuttered reported more positive perceptions towards people who stutter in general. Klassen also found that people who knew an individual who stuttered reported more positive perceptions toward people who stutter in general than those who did not know a person who stutters. Our study found that most individuals had relatively neutral perceptions toward people who stutter and that knowing a person who stutters, whether it was a close friend or distant acquaintance, did not really improve perceptions. The effect of familiarity on perceptions toward people who stutter is a relatively new area of research. The contrasting findings reported by the present study and Klassen’s study suggest that more research that explores this issue is necessary. ‘

Future studies in this area should consider how the nature, quality, and quantity of the relationships people have with people who stutter affect perceptions. The nature of the relationship, be it a close friend or distant acquaintance, should be explored. It is possible that the nature of the relationship, be it close or distant, may have a profound effect on the perceptions that individuals have toward people who stutter. The type or nature of the relationship, and how it affects perceptions towards people who stutter, is an important area of future research.

The quality of the relationship is an equally important issue. In the present study, the students reported relatively neutral perceptions of people who stutter. One reason for this report may be that the students had relatively neutral experiences with people who stutter. Future studies should consider asking individuals to report whether their relationship with the person who stutters was positive, negative, or neutral. The effect of the quality of the relationship on their perceptions of people who stutter could t’:1en be explored. It is also possible that the more positive the relationship is with a person who stutters, the more positive the person will perceive others who stutter.

Another factor is the quantity of relationships. The perceptions that people have toward people who stutter may not be simply altered by knowing one person who stutters, but may be improved if the individual has several experiences or relationships with people who stutter. One might suspect tha: there may be less generalization of positive attitudes from interactions with one individual, but may generalize from interactions with several people who stutter. Future studies should explore the effects of having multiple or few relationships with people who stutter.

In conclusion, this study found that familiarity and the level of familiarity one has with a person who stutters does not affect respondents’ perceptions toward a person who stutters in general. This study offers an important contribution to a relatively limited area of study. Due to several limitations to this study, these findings should be considered preliminary. More research in this area is necessary before we fully understand the effects of familiarity and relationships with people who stutter.

References
Collins, C., & Blood, G. W. (1988). Acknowledgement and severity of stuttering as factors influencing nonstutterers’ and stutterers’ perceptions of stutterers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 55, 75-81.

Cooper, E. B., & Cooper, C. S. (1996). Clinician attitudes toward stuttering: Two decades of change. Journal o_fFlaency Disorders, 2], 119-135.

Craig, A. R., & Calver, P. (1991). Following up on treated stutterers: Studies of perceptions of fluency and job status. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 34, 279-284.

Crocker, J ., Major, B., & Steele, C. (1998). Social stigma. In D.T. Gilbert, S.T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey

(Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th  ed., Vol. 2, pp. 504-553). New York: McGraw- Hill.

Crowe, T. A., & Cooper, E. B. (1977). Parental attitudes toward and knowledge of stuttering. Journal of Communication Disorders, 10, 343-357.

Crowe, T. A., & Walton, J. H. (1981). Teacher attitudes toward stuttering. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 6, 163-174.

Dorsey, M. & Guenther, R.K. (2000). Attitudes of professors and students toward college students who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 25, 77-83.

Ham, R. E. (1990). What is stuttering?: Variations and stereotypes. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 15, 259-273.

Hurst, M. I., & Cooper, E. B. (1983a). Employer attitudes toward stuttering. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 8, 1-12.

Hurst, M. I., & Cooper, E. B. (1983b). Vocational rehabilitation counselors’ attitudes toward stuttering. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 8, 13-27

Klassen, T.R. (2002). Social distance and the negative stereotype of stuttering. Journal of Speech- Language Pathology and Audiology, 26, 90-99.

Ruscello, D. M., Lass, N. 1., & Brown, J. (1988). College students’ perceptions of stutterers. NSSLHA Journal, 16, 115-120.

Silverman, F. (1998). Impact of a Tshirt message on stutterer stereotypes. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 13, 279-281.

Silverman, F., & Bongey, T. (1997). Nurses’ attitudes toward physicians who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 22, 61-62._

Silverman, F., & Paynter, K. (1990). Impact of stuttering on perception of occupational competence. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 15, 87-91.

Susca, M., & Healey, E.C. (2002). Perceptions of simulated stuttering and fluency. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 44, 61-71.

Turnbaugh, K., Guitar, B., & Hoffman, P. (1979). Speech Clinicians’ attribution of personality traits as a function of stuttering severity. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 22, 37-45.

Woods, C.L., & Williams, D.E. (1976). Traits attributed to stuttering and normally fluent males. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 19, 269-278.

Wright, B. A. (1983). Physical disability: A psychosocial approach. New York: Harper & Rowe.

Yairi, E., & Carrico, D. M. (1992). Early childhood stuttering: Pediatricians’ attitudes and practices. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 1 , 54-62.

Yeakle, M. K., & Cooper, E. B. (1986). Teacher perceptions of stuttering. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 1], 345-359.

Yuker, H.E. (Ed.) (1988). Attitudes toward persons with disabilities. New York: Springer.

APPENDIX 1.
A summary of the means and standard deviation for the main effects (familiarity and level of familiarity) on the items 25 items on the semantic differential scale. (PWS=Person who Stutters)

PPW_a1.png

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