AI may be able to detect suicidal tendencies from brain scans: Study

The United States National Library of Medicine has published a clinical research study called Clinical Correlates of inpatient  suicide, which claims four in five patients who died by suicide had denied suicidal tendencies in psychological assessment.

In a new study titled Machine learning of neural representations of suicide and emotion concepts identifies suicidal youth, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, claim artificial intelligence models may succeed where psychologists fail to detect such tendencies.

The researchers grouped 17 adults with suicidal feelings with 17 control subjects who had no such tendencies and put them in fMRI scanner to measure which areas of the brain would be activated when the subjects would be thinking about those keywords.

For instance, the study stated that words like death and cruelty activated the left superior medial frontal area of the brain and the medial frontal / anterior cingulate respectively.

The researchers analysed the results with a machine learning algorithm and found that they could more accurately map suicidal tendencies than standard risk assessments.

"Our latest work is unique insofar as it identifies concept alterations that are associated with suicidal ideation and behavior, using machine-learning algorithms to assess the neural representation of specific concepts related to suicide.

This gives us a window into the brain and mind, shedding light on how suicidal individuals think about suicide and emotion-related concepts,'' Marcel Adam Just, the lead author on the study and a professor of psychology at the Carnegie Mellon University said in a statement.

"We asked whether we could identify what a person was thinking from the machine learning patterns," Just explained. "The machine learning data was figured out with various kinds of concepts; eventually it learned how to map between patterns and concepts."

The subjects were put through an fMRI machine as they were asked to think about words that represented different "stimulus" concepts, ranging from positive ones (praise, bliss, carefree, and kindness), negative ones (terrible, cruelty, evil), and suicide (fatal, funeral, death).

The last one, death was the most damning of the brain signatures in Just's study. Suicidal subjects showed a spot of angry crimson at the front of the brain while control subjects just had specks of red amidst a sea of blue in the pictures.

"These people who are suicidal had more sadness in their representation of death, and more shame as well," he said.