Changing a chronic problem that involves well-learned patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions is a complex process. Evidence from the fields of behavioral health and health psychology suggests that changing a behavior is a non-linear progression through different stages of readiness to change. A person often begins the change process by not being aware, or denying, that the problem exists. Through various shifts in cognition, the person moves through a series of discrete stages to eventually use the new behavior/skill even in the face of challenge and setback. This stage-based model of behavior change is known as the "Stages of Change" and it has been shown to explain the change process across dozens of health behaviors such as depression management, smoking cessation, and organ donation. In our lab, we study how people who stutter work through a similar stage-based process when making a positive change to their stuttering.
We all have unique ways of maneuvering and making meaning of our social world. Some people tend to prioritize negative cues more so than benign ones – a phenomenon known as "cognitive bias." There are various forms of cognitive bias; two commonly studied ones are attentional bias and interpretation bias. Attentional bias is the tendency to focus on negative social cues in one's environment. For example, while you're giving a presentation, you focus on someone in the audience who looks bored or upset more than focusing on other audience members who look engaged. Interpretation bias is the tendency to draw negative conclusions from ambiguous social information. For example, your friend has not replied to your recent text, so you assume that they are angry at you rather than, perhaps, that they are pre-occupied with something else. There is a growing body of research indicating that these types of cognitive biases contribute to the onset and/or maintenance of various psychopathologies, including social anxiety which makes it very relevant to stuttering. In our lab, we study the nature of cognitive biases among people who stutter, and the functional impact these biases have on their lives.