Research Group 'Psychiatric Genetics', Head: Prof. Dr. Hans H. Stassen

Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics

Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich


Speech Characteristics in Depression and Schizophrenia

Affective State and Voice

Our interest in speech analysis has a background in psychiatric research and is founded on the fascinating prospects of computerized approaches to modelling intra-individual changes of affect over time in terms of speech parameters. In fact, human speech is considerably influenced by the affective state of the speaker and, with no great effort, an attentive listener discovers a lot about the affective state of his partner without having to talk about it explicitly during a conversation.

Speech Dysfunctions

Speech dysfunctions, such as slow, delayed or monotonous speech, are prominent features of severe mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia: "The patients speak in a low voice, slowly, hesitatingly, monotonously, sometimes stuttering, whispering, try several times before they bring out a word, become mute in the middle of a sentence. They become silent, monosyllabic, can no longer converse" (Kraepelin 1921).

Monitoring Clinical Change

Clinicians frequently observe that the speech of depressed patients is uniform and sometimes exhibits a "regular repetition of gliding intervals" and, that the pitch alterations of these patients are narrowed, giving the voice a monotonous quality. Accordingly, clinicians routinely monitor speed of talking among affectively disturbed patients for diagnostic purposes and as indicators of clinical change.

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Braun S, Annovazzi C, Botella C, Bridler B, Camussi E, Delfino JP, Mohr C, Moragrega I, Papagno C, Pisoni A, Soler C, Seifritz E, Stassen HH: Assessing Chronic Stress, Coping Skills and Mood Disorders through Speech Analysis. A Self-Assessment "Voice App" for Laptops, Tablets, and Smartphones. Psychopathology 2016; 49(6): 406-419 [get the article]
Delfino JP, Barragán E, Botella C, Braun S, Bridler R, Camussi E, Chafrat V, Lott P, Mohr C, Moragrega I, Papagno C, Sanchez S, Seifritz E, Soler C, Stassen HH: Quantifying Insufficient Coping Behavior under Chronic Stress. A cross-cultural study of 1,303 students from Italy, Spain, and Argentina. Psychopathology 2015; 48: 230-239
Braun S, Botella C, Bridler R, Chmetz F, Delfino JP, Herzig D, Kluckner VJ, Mohr C, Moragrega I, Schrag Y, Seifritz E, Soler C, Stassen HH: Affective State and Voice: Cross-Cultural Assessment of Speaking Behavior and Voice Sound Characteristics. A Normative Multi-Center Study of 577+36 Healthy Subjects. Psychopathology 2014; 47(5): 327-340
Mohr C, Braun S, Bridler R, Chmetz F, Delfino JP, Kluckner VJ, Lott P, Schrag Y, Seifritz E, Stassen HH: Insufficient Coping Behavior under Chronic Stress and Vulnerability to Psychiatric Disorders. Psychopathology 2014; 47: 235-243
Stassen HH, Delfino JP, Kluckner VJ, Lott P, Mohr C: Vulnerabilität und psychische Erkrankung. Swiss Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 2014; 165(5): 152-157
Stassen HH (2004) Veränderungen der Sprechmotorik. In: T.Jahn (ed) Bewegungsstörungen bei psychischen Erkrankungen. Springer Heidelberg: 107-125
Stassen HH, Angst J (2002) Wirkung und Wirkungseintritt in der Antidepressiva-Behandlung. In: Böker H and Hell D (eds) Therapie der affektiven Störungen. Stuttgart und New York: Schattauer 141-165
Lott PR, Guggenbühl S, Schneeberger A, Pulver AE, Stassen HH (2002) Linguistic analysis of the speech output of schizophrenic, bipolar, and depressive patients. Psychopathology 35(4): 220-227
Püschel J., Stassen HH, Bomben G, Scharfetter C and Hell D (1998) Speaking behavior and voice sound characteristics in acute schizophrenia. J. Psychiatric Research 32, 89-97
Stassen HH, Kuny S, Hell D (1998) The speech analysis approach to determining onset of improvement under antidepressants. Eur. Neuropsychopharmacology 8(4), 303-310
Kuny S, Stassen HH, Hell D (1997) Kognitive Beeinträchtigungen in der Depression. Schweiz Arch Neurol Psychiatrie 150,3: 18-25
Stassen HH (1995) Affekt und Sprache. Stimm- und Sprachanalysen bei Gesunden, depressiven und schizophrenen Patienten. Monographien aus dem Gesamtgebiete der Psychiatrie, Bd. 79. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer
Stassen HH, Albers M, Püschel J, Scharfetter C, Tewesmeier M, Woggon B (1995) Speaking behavior and voice sound characteristics associated with negative schizophrenia. J Psychiat Res. 29, 277-296
Kuny S, Stassen HH (1993) Speaking behavior and voice sound characteristics in depressive patients during recovery. J Psychiat Res. 27, 289-307
Time course of a patient's recovery from depression as reflected by HAMD-17 scores (dark square points) assessed at two-day intervals over an observation period of two weeks, plus a final assessment at the time of discharge from hospital ("day63"). The corresponding change over time of the speech parameter "F0-amplitude" is also shown (light circle points) in order to demonstrate the close relationship between the two courses of development (The patient responded to therapy).
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