|About the presenter: Sandra Merlo is a Brazilian speech-language pathologist who stutters. She received her degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Sao Paulo (USP). She received a Master's Degree in Linguistics and is completing her PhD also in Linguistics at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP). She also has a clinical practice with people having fluency disorders. She is the Scientific Director of The Brazilian Fluency Institute (www.gagueira.org.br).|
It is common to see people reporting great suffering because of stuttering. In these cases, it may be difficult to accept stuttering, there are feelings of fear and shame about stuttering, frustration with the degree of fluency, and avoidance from unpleasant situations (Alm, 2004; Guitar, 1997; Prins, 1997). But we also see people reporting low suffering with regard to stuttering. In these other cases, there is usually no difficulty with accepting stuttering, there is little fear and little shame about stuttering, there are few avoidances from unpleasant situations and stuttering may even be understood as a stimulus to fight for one's dreams. What is it that differentiates those who suffer much from their stuttering from those who do not? What does scientific literature have to say about ways of dealing with difficulties?
Since the 1970s, the experimental psychologist Carol S. Dweck has examined how people deal with difficulties, errors or failures.
Research subjects usually have very similar attitudes towards success in relation to cognitive strategies, positive affect and search behavior (Diener & Dweck, 1978, 1980).
However, when difficulties begin, two patterns of cognition, affect and behavior quickly emerge: a helpless response and a mastery-oriented response.
In the face of difficulties, subjects who show a helpless response are prone to (Diener & Dweck, 1978, 1980):
Later studies showed that different responses come from different goals.
Subjects with a helpless response are inclined to adopt performance goals. They want to prove their skills, show their adequacy and hide their inadequacies. The subjects must answer the question: "Is my ability adequate or inadequate?" The results provide the answer: successes indicate that the person's ability is adequate, while errors and difficulties indicate that the person's ability is not adequate. It is the feeling of inadequacy that activates a helpless response (Dweck & Elliot, 1988).
Subjects with a mastery-oriented response are inclined to adopt learning goals. They want to increase their ability and they see the situations as opportunities to grow. They must answer the question: "What is the best way to improve my skill?" The results provide the answer: successes indicate that the subject is on the right path, while errors and difficulties indicate that the subject is not on the right path to increase his/her ability and therefore must seek another way (Elliot & Dweck, 1988).
The meaning of the word "difficulty" is very different for the two groups. For subjects with performance goals, "difficulty" means failure. For subjects with learning goals, "difficulty" means information, that is, the task should be done another way (Elliot & Dweck, 1988).
In the same manner, the meaning of "effort" is different for the two groups. For subjects with performance goals, the need to employ effort is evidence of low skill. The degree of effort is understood as inversely correlated with the degree of skill, that is, if it is necessary to employ a high effort to do a task, it is because one is not skilled enough (regardless of outcome). For subjects with learning goals, effort is the way to achieve their goals. The degree of effort is understood as directly correlated with the degree of skill, that is, the greater the effort employed in a task, the greater the resultant ability.
For subjects with performance goals, difficulties and effort indicate that they are not good enough. Thus self-esteem is threatened, supporting the emergence of several emotions. If adequacy is questioned, anxiety will probably emerge. If there are negative judgments about the performance, depression will probably emerge. If there is defensive posture regarding the situation, boredom and disdain of the task will probably emerge (Dweck & Elliot, 1988; Nussbaum & Dweck, 2008).
For subjects with learning goals, difficulties indicate that the task should be done another way. Difficulties do not indicate inadequacy and therefore there is no threat to self-esteem. As effort is seen as the way to increase skills, other attitudes and emotions are favored. Subjects are prone to be more determined and persistent. In addition they are prone to feel pride and satisfaction for their efforts (Elliot & Dweck, 1988; Nussbaum & Dweck, 2008).
Why do subjects adopt different goals? Other studies suggested that the adoption of different goals is related to different conceptions about the nature of the skills (Dweck & Leggett, 1988, Mangels et al., 2006).
Subjects who have performance goals assume that personal skills, characteristics and attributes are inherent, that is, they are static and cannot be changed. Subjects who have learning goals assume that personal skills, characteristics and attributes can be developed, that is, they are dynamic and can be changed.
Subjects who understood fluency as an inherent ability would be prone to adopt performance goals and thus to react with a helpless response when confronted by fluency problems. They would be subjects that:
I believe that the findings of Dweck's studies may be useful in understanding why some people deal well and others deal poorly with stuttering.
Finally, a commercial from Peru about fear confrontation. The commercial is called "Atrévete. Cambia" ("Dare yourself. Change.").
Alm P. A. (2004). Stuttering, emotions, and heart rate during anticipatory anxiety: A critical review. Journal of Fluency Disorders 29 (2), p.123-33.
Diener, C. I. & Dweck, C. S. (1978). An analysis of learned helplessness: Continuous changes in performance, strategy and achievement cognitions following failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36, p. 451-462.
Diener, C. I. & Dweck, C. S. (1980). An analysis of learned helplessness: II. The processing of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39, p. 940-952.
Dweck, C. S. & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review 95 (2), p. 256-273.
Elliott, E. S. & Dweck, C. S. (1988). Goals: an approach to motivation and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54(1), p. 5-12.
Guitar, B. (1997). Therapy for children's stuttering and emotions. In: Curlee, R. F. & Siegel, G. M. (eds). Nature and Treatment of Stuttering: new directions. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. p. 280-291.
Mangels, J. A.; Butterfield, B.; Lamb, J.; Good, C. & Dweck, C. S. (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 1 (2), p. 75-86.
Nussbaum, A. D. & Dweck, C. S. (2008). Defensiveness versus remediation: self-theories and modes of self-esteem maintenance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34 (5), p. 599-612.
Prins, D. (1997). Modifying stuttering - the stutterer's reactive behavior: perspectives on past, present, and future. In: Curlee, R. F. & Siegel, G. M. (eds). Nature and Treatment of Stuttering: new directions. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. p. 335-355.
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