Thought disorder measured as random speech structure classifies negative symptoms and schizophrenia diagnosis 6 months in advance

Natália B. Mota, Mauro Copelli and Sidarta Ribeiro

In chronic psychotic patients, word graph analysis shows potential as complementary psychiatric assessment. This analysis relies mostly on connectedness, a structural feature of speech that is anti-correlated with negative symptoms. Here we aimed to verify whether speech disorganization during the first clinical contact, as measured by graph connectedness, can correctly classify negative symptoms and the schizophrenia diagnosis 6 months in advance. Positive and negative syndrome scale scores and memory reports were collected from 21 patients undergoing first clinical contact for recent-onset psychosis, followed for 6 months to establish diagnosis, and compared to 21 well-matched healthy subjects. Each report was represented as a word-trajectory graph. Connectedness was measured by number of edges, number of nodes in the largest connected component and number of nodes in the largest strongly connected component. Similarities to random graphs were estimated. All connectedness attributes were combined into a single Disorganization Index weighted by the correlation with the positive and negative syndrome scale negative subscale, and used for classifications. Random-like connectedness was more prevalent among schizophrenia patients (64 × 5% in Control group, p = 0.0002). Connectedness from two kinds of memory reports (dream and negative image) explained 88% of negative symptoms variance (p <  0.0001). The Disorganization Index classified low vs. high severity of negative symptoms with 100% accuracy (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve = 1), and schizophrenia diagnosis with 91.67% accuracy (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve = 0.85). The index was validated in an independent cohort of chronic psychotic patients and controls (N = 60) (85% accuracy). Thus, speech disorganization during the first clinical contact correlates tightly with negative symptoms, and is quite discriminative of the schizophrenia diagnosis.

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