Autonomic correlates of speech versus nonspeech tasks in children and adults

Hayley S. Arnold, Megan K. MacPherson, Anne Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Purpose: To assess autonomic arousal associated with speech and nonspeech tasks in school-age children and young adults. Method: Measures of autonomic arousal (electrodermal level, electrodermal response amplitude, blood pulse volume, and heart rate) were recorded prior to, during, and after the performance of speech and nonspeech tasks by twenty 7- to 9-year-old children and twenty 18- to 22-year-old adults. Results: Across age groups, autonomic arousal was higher for speech tasks compared with nonspeech tasks, based on peak electrodermal response amplitude and blood pulse volume. Children demonstrated greater relative arousal, based on heart rate and blood pulse volume, for nonspeech oral motor tasks than adults but showed similar mean arousal levels for speech tasks as adults. Children demonstrated sex differences in autonomic arousal; specifically, autonomic arousal remained high for school-age boys but not girls in a more complex open-ended narrative task that followed a simple sentence production task. Conclusions: Speech tasks elicit greater autonomic arousal than nonspeech tasks, and children demonstrate greater autonomic arousal for nonspeech oral motor tasks than adults. Sex differences in autonomic arousal associated with speech tasks in school-age children are discussed relative to speech-language differences between boys and girls.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1296-1307
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Autonomic arousal
  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Oral motor development
  • Speech production


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