“Over a fifth of Britons feel comfortable with jokes about stammering” finds YouGov Study

A new YouGov poll by Action for Stammering Children Charity and STAMMA (formerly British Stammering Association) has shown that 23% of adults in Britain feel comfortable with people making jokes about stammering. 

Stammering is a speech disorder that disrupts spoken fluency, resulting in people struggling to get their words out. It is often characterized by repetitions and prolonging sounds in words when speaking aloud. It is estimated that 8% of children will stammer – or stutter – at some point[1]. Stammering can have a significant impact on a child’s social development, occupational opportunities and mental health outcomes. 

The findings of this 2019 survey reflect the recent media coverage of people who have reported being laughed at when they stammered in public.

Difficulties with communication and fear of negative reactions from peers can have a substantial impact on the self-esteem of children who stammer. Young people who stammer show heightened apprehension about speaking in group discussions and taking part in conversations compared with their non-stammering peers[2]

Children who stammer are significantly more likely to be rejected by their peers compared to their non-stammering classmates[3]and are at increased risk of being bullied[4]. Research has shown that bullying experienced by children who stammer is directly related to their speech disorder, which has both short- and long-term effects on peer relationships, self-esteem and depression[5]

Bullying in childhood has been associated with adverse mental health outcomes in young adulthood[6]and has been found to impact a child’s well-being in the short-term, especially in relation to anxiety and depression[7]

The findings of this YouGov poll indicates that children and young people remain at risk of negative stigma and victimisation as a direct result of their speech. The fact that such a high proportion of responders felt it was acceptable to make fun out of stammering raises significant concerns within the stammering community. 

Given the association between bullying and poor mental health outcomes in young people, there is particular concern that 27% of 16-24 year olds feel comfortable with people making jokes about stammering – a higher proportion than any other age group surveyed. 

The YouGov study also suggests that stammering may be more common in adults than initially thought, with 3% of adults reporting that they have a stammer – higher than the widely accepted 1%[8]. This would indicate an even larger number of people in our society are experiencing derogatory and undermining reactions in their everyday life. 

While the causes of stammering are complex, it was worrying that 39% of adults still believe stammering is caused by a ‘nervous personality or being nervous’. Research has shown that stammering is a result of the interplay between neurological, genetic and environmental factors. Attributing stammering to ‘nervousness’ underestimates the complexity of the condition and may be a barrier to seeking appropriate specialist support from qualified Speech & Language Therapists. 

Steven Gauge, Chief Executive of Action for Stammering Children, commented:

Clearly more work needs to be done to raise awareness about stammering, the impact it has on the lives of those who stammer and their families. It is paramount that we continue to work together to change society’s attitudes to stammering and offset the detrimental effect of making fun of people because of the way they speak.” 

Download this file for the full set of results:

[1]Yairi, E., & Ambrose, N., 2013. Epidemiology of stuttering: 21stcentury advances. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 38, p66 – 87. 

[2]Blood, G. W., Blood, I., M., Tellis, G., & Gabel, R., 2001. Communication apprehension and self-perceived communication confidence in adolescents who stutter.Journal of Fluency Disorders, 27, p161 – 178. 

[3]Davis, S., Howell, P & Cooke, F., 2002. Sociodynamic relationships between children who stutter and their non-stuttering classmates.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, p939 – 947. 

[4]Blood, G. W., & Blood, I., M., 2007. Preliminary study of self-reported experience of physical aggression and bullying of boys who stutter: relation to increased anxiety. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 104, p1060 – 1066. 

[5]Hugh-Jones, S., & Smith, P. K., 1999. Self-reports of short- and long-term effects of bullying on children who stammer.British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, p141- 158. 

[6]Lereya, S. T., Copeland, W. E., Costello, E. J., & Wolke, D., 2015. Adult mental health consequences of peer bullying and maltreatment in childhood: two cohorts in two communities. Lancet Psychiatry, 2, p524 -531. 

[7]Schoeler, T., Duncan, L., Cecil, C. M., Ploubidis, G. B., and Pingault, J., 2018. Quasi-Experimental Evidence on Short- and Long-Term Consequences of Bullying Victimization: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 144, p1229 – 1246. 

[8]NHS Website [accessed 27.1.20]: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stammering/



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