Speech deficits, notably those involved in psychomotor retardation, blunted affect, alogia and poverty of content of speech, are pronounced in a wide range of serious mental illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia, unipolar depression, bipolar disorders). The present project evaluated the degree to which these deficits manifest as a function of cognitive resource limitations. We examined natural speech from 52 patients meeting criteria for serious mental illnesses (i.e., severe functional deficits with a concomitant diagnosis of schizophrenia, unipolar and/or bipolar affective disorders) and 30 non-psychiatric controls using a range of objective, computer-based measures tapping speech production ("alogia"), variability ("blunted vocal affect") and content ("poverty of content of speech"). Subjects produced natural speech during a baseline condition and while engaging in an experimentally-manipulated cognitively-effortful task. For correlational analysis, cognitive ability was measured using a standardized battery. Generally speaking, speech deficits did not differ as a function of SMI diagnosis. However, every speech production and content measure was significantly abnormal in SMI versus control groups. Speech variability measures generally did not differ between groups. For both patients and controls as a group, speech during the cognitively-effortful task was sparser and less rich in content. Relative to controls, patients were abnormal under cognitive load with respect only to average pause length. Correlations between the speech variables and cognitive ability were only significant for this same variable: average pause length. Results suggest that certain speech deficits, notably involving pause length, may manifest as a function of cognitive resource limitations. Implications for treatment, research and assessment are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry