Presentation in the Lecture Series “Fokus Stottern [Focus on Stuttering] at the 41st Stottern & Selbsthilfe [Stuttering and Self-help] Congress, Heidelberg, on October 2nd, 2014
by Andreas Starke, Hamburg, Germany
Kahneman and behavioral economics
Daniel Kahneman, born 1934, is one of the most important psychologists of our time. He received the Nobel Prize in 2002. It is quite unusual for a psychologist to be awarded this prize. Kahneman’s most significant contribution is his “Prospect Theory”. This is a theory of decision-making under uncertainty that can serve to explain economic decisions. Kahneman became one of the main proponents of behavioral economics, because his theory does not assume that a human always acts in a mathematically rational way, i.e. is not a “homo economicus”. In the model of behavioral economics deviations from rational behavior do not occur randomly, but in a systematic fashion.
Two classes of thinking – System 1 and System 2
In his scientific work that comprised both experiments and evaluations of real-life events, Kahneman proposed dividing the mental processes that a person experiences or executes into two classes. By “mental processes” we mean, more or less, everything that we consider to be thinking processes. The term “thinking”, as we will see, is taken very broadly. In order to avoid any unwanted connotations of terms, he called one class “System 1” and the other “System 2”.
System 1 is always “on” whenever System 2 is not. In this state everything is processed that is about to happen or actually happening. This could be more than one task, e.g. knitting and chatting at the same time.
Activation of System 2 requires a decision to execute a task.
Examples of mental activities in System 1 and System 2 (in random order)
|System 1||System 2|
|to recall||to reflect|
|to have an opinion||to make a judgment|
|to react spontaneously||to solve a problem|
|to have an idea||to make a plan|
|quick action||complicated operation|
|it runs (its course)||it succeeds|
|to receive sensory stimuli||to process sensory stimuli|
|automatic flow of thoughts||thinking about X / pondering on X|
|it happens||you do it|
|to be off-guard /paying no attention||to be on-guard / to be on the lookout|
The following rules apply to mental processes:
- System 1 is the default state, i.e. it is “on” as long as the person is not occupied with a task in System 2.
- System 2 must be activated consciously.
- If you don’t concentrate, System 1 reactivates itself.
- System 1 and System 2 are disjoint, they cannot be active simultaneously.
- System 2 is exclusive, i.e. at any given time it can only deal with one task or issue.
- Skills that can be performed in System 2 also become available in System 1 with practice (sufficiently frequent repetition).
Stuttering when speaking in System 1 and System 2
If a person stutters, speaking in System 1 contains losses of control – the stuttering events. Speaking in System 1 also contains reactions to stuttering that have originated in a random manner and have been operantly conditioned. Reinforcement comes from succeeding to utter the next word (the stuttered word). This learning process takes place within System 1. Reactions to stuttering could also have been learned in System 2 by instruction (e.g. in therapy) or by trial-and-error.
Speaking in System 2 (with the intent of “speaking with as little stuttering as possible”) can also contain losses of control. However, they disappear completely after instruction and practice, if the way of speaking is consciously modified from the spontaneous way of speaking. This unnatural modification (alienation) may concern quite different characteristics of speech as
- speed and its variation,
- pitch and its variation,
- volume and its variation,
- the use of pauses, and
- voice quality.
The use of “soft / easy onsets”, i.e. fixed loudness patterns, and even the use of particular breathing patterns are also possible forms of alienation in this sense.
Traditional stuttering therapy (Fluency Shaping)
The first that comes to mind in the design of a therapy program is naturally the thought of introducing and practicing a stutter-free way of speaking in the hope that the automatization mentioned previously will occur. However, there is a danger that automatization does not happen and the person learns wrong elements of the speaking process. Reasons for the failure of automatization can be:
- The patient does not apply the stutter-free way of speaking in System 2 (which is supposed to effect the shaping of fluency) often enough.
- The patient uses the “speech technique” only in easy situations.
- The patient refuses to use the “speech technique”, because of the substantial cost involved (the disadvantages of using it).
An additional risk consists of training wrong movement patterns so that they eventually become part of spontaneous speech (speaking in System 1). This happens, because a great deal of alienation is required to make speaking stutter-free, if the person stutters severely.
Speaking in System 2 without learning wrong things
One dimension of alienation does NOT carry the danger of unintentionally learning something wrong, namely deceleration (slowing-down) combined with a high degree of consciousness. All the characteristics of a natural spontaneous way of speaking can be kept by slowing down slightly or considerably – as much as necessary. Minor deviations from the pattern of natural spontaneous speech have to and can be tolerated. The deceleration has the advantage of reducing itself automatically when the speaker speaks in System 1.
Speaking in System 2 as a resource for local use
If automatization doesn’t occur (for any of the three reasons mentioned above) there is still the alternative of using System 2 speech at the stuttered word (at the very point in time, the location where stuttering occurs, the locus of stuttering). This is what I call a “local use” as opposed to “global use” meaning the alteration of the entire way of speaking.
If speaking in System 2 (decelerated and in a highly conscious manner) succeeds without stuttering, as it usually does, this way of speaking is used as a resource in order to “work” on losses of control in System 1, i.e. in natural and spontaneous speech. This “work” consists of switching to System 2 on the spot. Switching back to System 1 (automatic speech) happens automatically, i.e. does not have to be done deliberately and needs no practice, although it can be postponed (see below).
Cancellation as retroactively switching to System 2
A stuttering event comprising the whole utterance of the stuttered word (the word that was stuttered on) is spoken a second time in System 2 after a pause of 2 to 5 seconds. In order to reliably effect the switch to System 2, the pause is initially used to “rehearse” the repeated utterance of the word by performing the oral movements with a high degree of conscious awareness. Doing this, the pause may take well over 5 seconds. Van Riper called this maneuver “cancellation”; the German word “Nachbesserung” (my invention), literally “after-improvement”, means something like “subsequent repair”.
Pull-out as switching at the “point of inhibition”
Sometimes it is possible to halt an attempt to utter the stuttered word. With sufficient practice of using “Nachbesserungen” (cancellations) this turns out to be fairly easy. In such cases the stuttering event is supposed to act as a signal for immediately switching to System 2. At the start, this switch may take some time. With growing practice switching becomes faster and more reliable. This maneuver is called pull-out (Van Riper’s term). Like English words in many other fields, this word has been adopted into German in the context of Van Riper’s stuttering therapy, spelled as one word “Pullout”.
”Vorbesserung“ as switching before stuttering occurs
(“Vorbesserung” (literally “pre-improvement”) is a newly-coined word for the opposite of “Nachbesserung”. It means something like “predictive repair” or rather “predictive maintenance” (avoiding failure by replacing a part by an improved version, using the language of maintenance engineering). On par with a pull-out stutters can use a “Vorbesserung”, provided that they anticipate a stuttering event before it has occurred. Most, but not all, stutterers “know” some or many stuttered words in advance. Doing a “Vorbesserung” means switching immediately to System 2 so that the anticipated (predicted) stuttering event actually does not take place.
What are the benefits of Kahneman to Van Riper’s therapy?
- Kahneman’s classification of mental activities permits a clearer formulation of the differences between a fluency shaping therapy and a stuttering modification therapy like the one Van Riper has devised.
- For me, a logical consequence of this model is that I now recommend my patients to remain in System 2 for a number of additional words (after a stuttered and modified word) and to resist the urge to continue spontaneously in System 1.
Kahneman, Daniel (1911): Thinking Fast and Slow. London: Penguin Group
Van Riper, Charles (1973): Treatment of Stuttering. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall
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