Many young people at risk for psychosis show a disturbance in flow of meaning during speech. In a new study, researchers used a software program to analyze speech transcripts gathered from oral interviews with at-risk young adults. They discovered that the software was able to predict which of these individuals would develop psychosis within two years, with an accuracy of up to 83 percent.
Disorganized thinking, a common symptom of psychosis, is regularly assessed using interview-based clinical ratings of speech. It is characterized by tangential (disturbance in flow of meaning) language, looseness of associations, and reduced complexity of speech.
Although language disturbances can be severe enough to impair effective communication, they are more typically seen as a subtle but persistent characteristics that can be present before the onset of psychosis in at-risk young people. This makes speech disturbance a potential predictor of worsening symptoms.
This research involved the analysis of transcripts from interviews with at-risk young people in two different groups — one in New York City with 34 participants and one in Los Angeles with 59 participants — for whom psychosis onset within the next two years was known.
The transcripts were analyzed by computer using automated natural language processing methods to detect any differences in speech between those who developed psychosis and those who did not.
In the second group of at-risk individuals, the researchers found that the speech analyzing software was able to predict psychosis with 79 percent accuracy, and could discriminate speech from individuals with psychosis from healthy individuals with an accuracy of 72 percent.
Overall, the new findings suggest that this technology has the potential to improve prediction of psychosis and other disorders.
“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 remediation and training strategies that target the cognitive deficits that may underlie language disturbance,” said the study’s first author, Cheryl Corcoran, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“More broadly, language and behavior are the primary sources of data for psychiatrists to diagnose and treat mental disorders,” said Corcoran. “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.”
The results of the study are published in the journal World Psychiatry.