The goal of this project is to investigate the feasibility of using speech acoustics as a clinical biomarker in individuals at clinical high risk (CHR) for developing psychosis. There is evidence that disruptions to cortico-cerebellar circuits in individuals experiencing attenuated psychosis symptoms impact motor control of the face and limbs. This proposal would be the first study to examine whether these motor disruptions in high-risk populations also affect the complex motor control required for speech.
In Aim 1 an instrumental approach will be used to investigate the acoustic correlates of psychosis risk. Specifically, speech data will be collected to investigate fine-grained acoustic properties of vowels and consonants in simple repetition tasks as well as during more naturalistic conversational speech. The speech of CHR young adults will be compared to age-matched healthy controls to discover if there are group differences in the speech acoustics that allow us to classify speech samples into healthy and clinical groups. To enable fast, reliable analysis, machine learning-based algorithms will be used to measure the acoustics speech properties of interest.
In Aim 2, the speech properties measured in Aim 1 will be compared to other behavioral measures, in order to discover if they correlate with several measures of cerebellar dysfunction (posture control, procedural learning, and motor timing) that are known to occur in CHR individuals. These measures will provide convergent validity for these novel speech measures. Cognitive capabilities which are related and unrelated to speech and motor control will also be assessed, to provide specificity and divergent validity to these measures.
In Aim 3, the links between speech features and changes in symptom severity will be assessed at two time points, connecting changes in speech motor control to longitudinal changes in the progression of the symptoms over 12 months. These investigations may reveal speech as a novel and easily-collected biomarker enabling early detection of psychosis risk.

Public Health Relevance

The goal of this proposal is to determine whether speech patterns can signal vulnerability to psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Speech samples will be collected from high-risk and matched healthy control participants in order to: determine if there are abnormalities in the acoustics of vowels and consonants; evaluate if these properties map on to dysfunction of the cerebellum (a brain region impacted in the development of psychosis that also plays a role in speech motor control); and relate these properties to symptom severity and illness progression. This study will lay the groundwork for the use of speech as an inexpensive, non-invasive, and mechanistically-relevant metric that will ultimately support earlier identification and facilitate timely treatment.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Adult Psychopathology and Disorders of Aging Study Section (APDA)
Program Officer
Leitman, David I
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Northwestern University at Chicago
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code