Speech analysis can predict psychosis in at-risk youths: Study

Jan. 22 (UPI) — Analysis of speech may help predict which at-risk youths will develop psychosis within two years, researchers suggest in a new study.

In the research of two independent groups, the method was about 80 percent accurate in determining whether youths whose speech was tangential, or going off track, led to psychosis, according to a study published Monday in the journal World Psychiatry.

“Language and behavior are the primary sources of data for psychiatrists to diagnose and treat mental disorders,” said the study’s first author, Dr. Cheryl Corcoran, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System, said in a press release.

“There are now novel computerized methods to characterize complex behaviors such as language. Speech is easy to collect and inexpensive to analyze using computer-based analysis. This technology could be applied across psychiatry, and plausibly in other fields of medicine.”

In Los Angeles, the first group of 59 participants was given open-ended narrative interviews, including being asked about life changes experienced. The accuracy rate was 83 percent.

In New York, 34 youths were studied using Caplan’s “Story Game,” which requires participants to retell a story and then answer questions about a story they hear, and then construct and tell a new story. The success rate was 79 percent.

In both groups, it was already known whether the participants would develop psychosis within about two years.

Researchers analyzed the speech of participants by using automated natural language processing to determine differences in speech between those who developed psychosis and those who did not.

Disorganized thinking is a symptom of psychosis, and in clinic work involves interview-based clinic ratings of speech, suggesting the method could be easily employed by health practitioners.

“The results of this study are exciting because this technology has the potential to improve prediction of psychosis and ultimately help us prevent psychosis by helping researchers develop re-mediation and training strategies that target the cognitive deficits that may underlie language disturbance,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran told UPI she has also received a grant to test the method on a much larger risk group, which she said will also include non-English speakers.

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