Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Psychologists develop two potent new predictors of suicide risk

Date:
July 30, 2010
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Two powerful new tests developed by psychologists show great promise in predicting patients' risk of attempting suicide. The work may help clinicians overcome their reliance on self-reporting by at-risk individuals, information that often proves misleading when suicidal patients wish to hide their intentions.

"Our work provides two important new tools clinicians can use in deciding how to treat potentially suicidal patients,” said Harvard Professor of Psychology Matthew K. Nock (right), who worked on the study with Christine B. Cha (left), a doctoral student in psychology.
Credit: Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Two powerful new tests developed by psychologists at Harvard University show great promise in predicting patients' risk of attempting suicide.

The work may help clinicians overcome their reliance on self-reporting by at-risk individuals, information that often proves misleading when suicidal patients wish to hide their intentions. Both new tests are easily administered within minutes on a computer, giving quick insight into how patients are thinking about suicide, as well as their propensity to attempt suicide in the near future.

"Experts have long sought a clear behavioral marker of suicide risk," says Harvard Professor of Psychology Matthew K. Nock, an author of two papers describing the new assessments of suicidal behavior. "The current approach, based on self-reporting, leads to predictions that are scarcely better than chance, since suicidal patients are often motivated to conceal or misrepresent their mental state. We sought to develop more sophisticated, objective measures of how psychiatric patients are thinking about suicide. Our work provides two important new tools clinicians can use in deciding how to treat potentially suicidal patients."

Nock and colleagues report on the tests in two papers, one in the current Journal of Abnormal Psychology and a second published in Psychological Science. Unlike many previous efforts focused on biological markers of suicidal behavior, their work identifies two behavioral markers: subjects' attention to suicide-related stimuli, and the extent to which they associate death or suicide with themselves.

In one study by Nock's group, 124 patients in a psychiatric emergency department were administered a modified Stroop test measuring speed in articulating the color of words on a computer screen. Suicidal individuals were found to pay more attention to suicide-related words than to neutral words.

"Suicide Stroop scores predicted six-month follow-up suicide attempts above and beyond well-known risk factors such as a history of suicide attempts, patients' reported likelihood of attempt, and clinicians' predictions regarding patients' likelihood of attempt," says co-author Christine B. Cha, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard.

A second study adapted the Implicit Association Test developed by Harvard psychologist Mahzarin R. Banaji, using reaction times to semantic stimuli to measure 157 subjects' automatic mental associations -- in this case, the strength of associations between words related to "self" and words related to either "life" or "death/suicide." Participants were shown pairs of words on a screen, with response speed revealing unconscious associations between the terms. For instance, a rapid response to stimuli associating self with death/suicide suggests a strong unconscious association between the two.

Nock and his colleagues found that those participants with strong associations between self and death/suicide were six times more likely to attempt suicide within the next six months than those holding stronger associations between self and life.

"These findings suggest that a person's implicit cognition may guide which behavior he or she chooses to cope with extreme distress," Nock says. "More specifically, an implicit association with death/suicide may represent one of the final steps in the pathway to suicide."

Nock and Cha were joined on the two recent papers by co-authors Jennifer M. Park and Christine T. Finn of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital and Sadia Najmi, Tara L. Deliberto, Halina J. Dour, and Mahzarin R. Banaji of Harvard's Department of Psychology. The work was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Norlien Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. The original article was written by Steve Bradt, Harvard Staff Writer. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Psychologists develop two potent new predictors of suicide risk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100728111717.htm>.
Harvard University. (2010, July 30). Psychologists develop two potent new predictors of suicide risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100728111717.htm
Harvard University. "Psychologists develop two potent new predictors of suicide risk." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100728111717.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Researchers say women who diet at a young age are at greater risk of developing harmful health habits, including eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins