FRIDAY, May 27 (HealthDay News) -- Stuttering may seem simple enough. People who stutter cannot get words out properly. They repeat or prolong sounds or syllables, sometimes appearing to physically struggle to speak.
But the problem is much more complex than that, involving factors as disparate as genetics, emotion, brain activity, motor control and language, said Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation of America.
"There are so many factors involved in saying one word, it is the most complex thing we do," Fraser said. "There's nothing we do as humans more complex than speaking."
Stuttering took center stage recently with the popularity and critical success of "The King's Speech," which was awarded the "best picture" Oscar at this year's Academy Awards. The movie has brought new attention to the problem of stuttering, which affects roughly 3 million Americans, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Experts' understanding of stuttering has evolved considerably from days past, when most people thought the problem was all in the stutterers' heads.
"In light of 'The King's Speech,' certainly in the '30s and '40s, I think people thought in general stuttering was a psychological problem," Fraser said. "If you had enough willpower, you could just get on top of it. My father and his brother both stuttered, and both were punished for stuttering. People thought they could spank it out of you, and in his and his brother's case, it just made it worse."
Doctors have since identified four factors that can influence a person's chance of developing a stutter, according to the Stuttering Foundation:
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