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Voice patterns as markers of schizophrenia: building a cumulative generalizable approach via cross-linguistic and meta-analysis based investigation

By Alberto Parola, Arndis Simonsen, Jessica Mary Lin, Yuan Zhou, Wang Huiling, Shino Ubukata, Katja Koelkebeck, Vibeke Bliksted, Riccardo Fusaroli

Posted 05 Apr 2022
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2022.04.03.22273354

Background and Hypothesis: Voice atypicalities are potential markers of clinical features of schizophrenia (e.g., negative symptoms). A recent meta-analysis identified an acoustic profile associated with schizophrenia (reduced pitch variability and increased pauses), but also highlighted shortcomings in the field: small sample sizes, little attention to the heterogeneity of the disorder, and to generalizing findings to diverse samples and languages. Study Design: We provide a critical cumulative approach to vocal atypicalities in schizophrenia, where we conceptually and statistically build on previous studies. We aim at identifying a cross-linguistically reliable acoustic profile of schizophrenia and assessing sources of heterogeneity (symptomatology, pharmacotherapy, clinical and social characteristics). We relied on previous meta-analysis to build and analyze a large cross-linguistic dataset of audio recordings of 231 patients with schizophrenia and 238 matched controls (>4.000 recordings in Danish, German, Mandarin and Japanese). We used multilevel Bayesian modeling contrasting meta-analytically informed and skeptical inferences. Study Results: We found only a minimal generalizable acoustic profile of schizophrenia (reduced pitch variability), while duration atypicalities replicated only in some languages. We identified reliable associations between acoustic profile and individual differences in clinical ratings of negative symptoms, medication, age and gender. However, these associations vary across languages. Conclusions: The findings indicate that a strong cross-linguistically reliable acoustic profile of schizophrenia is unlikely. Rather, if we are to devise effective clinical applications able to target different ranges of patients, we need first to establish larger and more diverse cross-linguistic datasets, focus on individual differences, and build self-critical cumulative approaches

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