Computer Program Can Predict Psychosis More Accurately Than Psychiatrists

Thursday, 27 August 2015 - 11:20AM
Neuroscience
Thursday, 27 August 2015 - 11:20AM
Computer Program Can Predict Psychosis More Accurately Than Psychiatrists
We often take for granted that the study of the human mind is subjective, but in recent years, the field of psychiatry has seen a significant push towards objective standards and strict application of the scientific method. In a recent study from Columbia University, researchers devised a computer program that predicted the onset of psychosis with 100% accuracy, surpassing results from clinical interviews with a human being.

For the experiment, the researchers used a computer program that analyzed baseline interviews with participants for idiosyncratic speech patterns that are consistent with clinical high risk of psychosis. Those who are considered to be at high risk for a psychotic episode often suffer from tangential thinking, which is reflected in certain speech patterns. 

Opening quote
"Speech provides a unique window into the mind, giving important clues about what people are thinking and feeling," the researchers wrote in a Columbia statement.
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Specifically, the program analyzed the patients' semantic coherence, or how well they were able to stay on topic, as well as syntactic structure, or length and complexity of sentences, paying particular attention to the usage of determiner words that link phrases such as "which." Using this program, the researchers were able to predict which patients would have a psychotic episode within the next two-and-a-half years with 100% accuracy. 

Opening quote
"This method may be able to identify thought disorder in its earliest, most subtle form, years before the onset of psychosis," they wrote.
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Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean we can replace psychiatrists. First, the study only interviewed 34 people (5 of whom developed psychosis), which is a relatively small sample size, so more research needs to be done on the program. And even if it can predict psychosis with more accuracy than humans, the automation of this kind of work is extremely tricky. Like the DSM, which attempts to place objective standards on inherently subjective diagnoses, it would have its advantages and its drawbacks.

Opening quote
"Psychiatry lacks the objective clinical tests routinely used in other specializations," the authors wrote in their paper. "Novel computerized methods to characterize complex behaviors such as speech could be used to identify and predict psychiatric illness in individuals."
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But that being said, this program could certainly aid psychiatrists in their treatment of disorders like schizophrenia. There is a paranoid concern that predictive technology could lead to some kind of pre-emptive discrimination, but hopefully the technology would only be used for clinical purposes.
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