The neural mechanisms underlying stuttering remain poorly understood. A large body of work has focused on sensorimotor integration difficulties in individuals who stutter, including recently the capacity for sensorimotor learning. Typically, sensorimotor learning is assessed with adaptation paradigms in which one or more sensory feedback modalities are experimentally perturbed in real-time. Our own previous work on speech with perturbed auditory feedback revealed substantial auditory-motor learning limitations in both children and adults who stutter (AWS). It remains unknown, however, which sub-processes of sensorimotor learning are impaired. Indeed, new insights from research on upper-limb motor control indicate that sensorimotor learning involves at least two distinct components: (a) an explicit component that includes intentional strategy use and presumably is driven by target error, and (b) an implicit component that updates an internal model without awareness of the learner and presumably is driven by sensory prediction error. Here, we attempted to dissociate these components for speech auditory-motor learning in AWS vs. adults who do not stutter (AWNS). Our formant-shift auditory-motor adaptation results replicated previous findings that such sensorimotor learning is limited in AWS. Novel findings are that neither control nor stuttering participants reported any awareness of changing their productions in response to the auditory perturbation, and that neither group showed systematic drift in auditory target judgments made throughout the adaptation task. These results indicate that speech auditory-motor adaptation relies exclusively on implicit learning processes. Thus, limited adaptation in AWS reflects poor implicit sensorimotor learning.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience