Science & Technology

Conversation, Neurological Conditions Topic of March Blue Plate Research

By Kirsten Reither |

Stephanie Borrie presents her research on conversation and communication disorders at Gallivan Hall in Salt Lake City on March 21.

Utah State University's Stephanie Borrie presented her research on conversation and communication disorders on March 21. The presentation, titled “The Science Behind the Art of Conversation,” was hosted at Gallivan Hall in Salt Lake City as a part of the Blue Plate Research series.

“Conversations are everywhere and they allow us to participate in life,” Borrie said. “We use conversation to navigate our world, creating meaning and fulfillment in our lives.”

Having a successful conversation is more complicated than just speaking words. Conversations rely on nonverbal cues like tone of voice, posture and facial expression. When people hold a successful conversation, they subconsciously alter their nonverbal cues to match those of their conversation partner, something known as entrainment.

“What science tells us is that, to experience successful conversations, we cannot function as individual entities, but rather we must collaborate our behaviors, coordinating our speech in meaningful ways,” Borrie said.

Studies show that people with high levels of entrainment report being more satisfied with their conversations. They also see their conversation partner as friendlier and solve problems more quickly and efficiently. Conversely, people with low levels of entrainment report being more dissatisfied with conversations. They may struggle to communicate with the person they’re talking to or feel like the conversation was negative and disjointed.

This is a problem for people who have neurological communication challenges such as Parkinson’s disease or brain injuries. When they have conversations with other people, there is often a lack of understanding and entrainment. People with dysarthria have much lower levels of conversational entrainment than people without communication disorders.

“I witnessed firsthand the profound consequences that these communication disorders can have on someone’s ability to participate in life — loss of relationships, loss of employment, reduced community involvement, and difficulty accessing services, including critical services such as health care,” Borrie said.

Current treatment for communication disorders typically involves teaching the individual to speak more clearly. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work for people with dysarthria.

Borrie is working to change that. Instead of trying to teach people to modify their speech, her treatment method consists of teaching those without dysarthria to understand those who do have it through repeated exposure.

Though still preliminary, Borrie’s treatment is showing very positive results.

“At a very practical level, our work shows that we can successfully teach communication partners to better understand someone with a speech disorder,” Borrie said.

Blue Plate Research is hosted by the Utah State University Office of Research and sponsored by Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Utah. The series promotes health and well-being research and connects researchers, educators and legislators.

Learn more about past events at


Kirsten Reither
Research Communications


Alicia Richmond
Director of Public Relations & Marketing
Emma Eccles Jones College of Education & Human Services


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