I study the vocal system of the human brain. Humans have a degree of control over the larynx that is unparalleled among primates. Acquiring flexible and volitional control over the larynx was a key step in the evolution of our singular capacity for verbal communication, without which speech and song would be impossible.
From an ancestor that communicated only through pre-programmed emotional vocalizations, humans evolved the ability to learn novel vocal patterns. My research focuses on exploring the evolutionarily novel neural system that gives humans flexible control over the larynx and how the vocal system coordinates pre-programmed and learned vocal motor patterns to produce vocalizations that simultaneously encode emotional tone of voice and speech.
What happens when the larynx goes wrong? Stuttering is a complex speech disorder characterized by repetitive or blocked vocalization, particularly in speech. One of the possible causes of stuttering is a haywire larynx that struggles to start vocal patterns. I am interested in describing how the evolutionary changes to our vocal system may have left us vulnerable to disorders, such as stuttering, which are not found in our non-vocal learning mammalian relatives.