Assistant Professor Nathan Maxfield Receives New Grant from National Institutes of Health - National Institute of Deafness & Other Communication Disorders


Assistant Professor Nathan Maxfield Receives New Grant from National Institutes of Health - National Institute of Deafness & Other Communication Disorders


October 2010


Nathan Maxfield, Assistant Professor in the College of Behavioral & Community Sciences’ Department of Communications Sciences & Disorders, has received a $300,000, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health - National Institute of Deafness & Other Communication Disorders.

The grant, “Picture Naming Electrified: Brain Electrophysiological Correlates of Psycholinguistic Planning in Adults Who Stutter”, aims to better understand how speech production mechanisms operate in adults who stutter. Stuttering is a complex communicative disorder that affects as many as 4 million adults in the United States, and its impact on social and vocational prospects is potentially devastating. Producing speech, mechanistically, involves processing linguistic information at a cognitive level, while maintaining control at a speech motor level. Although efficient performance at both levels drives fluent speaking, the latter has received more attention in research with adults who stutter (AWS). More than four decades of research established that impaired coordination and timing are persistent factors in the speech motor performance of adults who stutter. Intensive, speech motor-based treatments can alleviate stuttering in adults. However, relapse after treatment is very common in AWS, and a contributing factor may be that treatments fail to address the entire deficit, i.e., there might be more to stuttering than just poor speech motor performance. Factors peripheral to speech production, such as personality and environment, are being examined for their roles in the persistence of stuttering. Still missing is a rigorous examination of the cognitive machinery that drives speaking. Several theories of stuttering posit a psycholinguistic deficit in people who stutter, but research on psycholinguistic planning in AWS has been limited in scope and precision. This grant’s goal is to systematically examine this process in AWS, with increased precision, using an innovative, neuroscientific approach.

 “I feel very fortunate that the NIH-National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIH-NIDCD) found this work innovative enough to award funding,” states Maxfield. “I also feel fortunate to be a part of USF’s growing research strength in the area of cognitive neuroscience. This grant project adds to that research strength by using cognitive neuroscience in some very innovative ways to examine how adults who stutter processing language on the path to speech production.” Maxfield also credits USF’s New Investigator’s Award as an important support mechanism in allowing him to prepare to submit the NIH grant, and the very strong and positive relationships the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders has with the community of adults who stutter in the Greater Tampa Bay region and the National Stuttering Association as part of the emerging program in the area of stuttering here at the college.

Maxfield received his PhD in Speech & Hearing Science from City University of New York, Graduate Center in 2005.  He has two primary research areas here at the college: 1) exploring cognitive and psycholinguistic mechanisms in people who stutter, with his focus right now being on adults who stutter, with the next step being to investigate psycholinguistic mechanisms in children who stutter, using a neuroscientific approach; and 2) adapting neuroscientific methods to investigate other types of communicative processes. He is currently collaborating on research investigating central auditory processing in aging adults, the development of reading comprehension skills in children, and the processing of imperfect (noisy or disfluent) sentences in typical adults. Maxfield also enjoys a good working relationship with the Tobacco Research Institute at the Moffitt Cancer Center, and as part of that collaboration, is beginning to consider how nicotine’s effect on attentional control might influence language processing. This grant will allow Maxfield to understand precisely how AWS activate, retrieve, and monitor lexical knowledge on the path to speaking could improve the efficacy of intervention for stuttering, an important goal in fostering the psychosocial and vocational prospects of adults who stutter. Results of this research will have implications for the development of psycholinguistically focused assessment and treatment tools for stuttering.