Investigating the feasibility of using transcranial direct current stimulation to enhance fluency in people who stutter.
Chesters J., Watkins KE., Möttönen R.
Developmental stuttering is a disorder of speech fluency affecting 1% of the adult population. Long-term reductions in stuttering are difficult for adults to achieve with behavioural therapies. We investigated whether a single session of transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) could improve fluency in people who stutter (PWS). In separate sessions, either anodal TDCS (1mA for 20min) or sham stimulation was applied over the left inferior frontal cortex while PWS read sentences aloud. Fluency was induced during the stimulation period by using choral speech, that is, participants read in unison with another speaker. Stuttering frequency during sentence reading, paragraph reading and conversation was measured at baseline and at two outcome time points: immediately after the stimulation period and 1h later. Stuttering was reduced significantly at both outcome time points for the sentence-reading task, presumably due to practice, but not during the paragraph reading or conversation tasks. None of the outcome measures were significantly modulated by anodal TDCS. Although the results of this single-session study showed no significant TDCS-induced improvements in fluency, there were some indications that further research is warranted. We discuss factors that we believe may have obscured the expected positive effects of TDCS on fluency, such as heterogeneity in stuttering severity for the sample and variations across sessions. Consideration of such factors may inform future studies aimed at determining the potential of TDCS in the treatment of developmental stuttering.