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Correlating Psychopathy With Speech Patterns 270

Posted by Soulskill
from the goal-oriented dept.
florescent_beige writes "Researchers from Cornell and UBC report that analysis of speech patterns using Wmatrix, along with something called the Dictionary of Affect in Language (see a demo here), shows that psychopaths speak differently from other people, at least statistically (abstract). Although they say that these differences are 'presumably beyond conscious control,' the authors do not say if the method has any predictive use. Regardless, the popular press has already gone headline-nonlinear about it."
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Correlating Psychopathy With Speech Patterns

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  • PR Stunt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreakNO@SPAMeircom.net> on Saturday October 15, 2011 @09:41AM (#37723676) Homepage Journal

    "Hungry like the wolf: A word-pattern analysis of the language of psychopaths," Legal and Criminological Psychology

    With an irresponsible paper title like that, the authors were inviting a media circus. We're talking about research into people with mental disorder here, not a new friday night drama series.

    • Re:PR Stunt (Score:5, Informative)

      by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @09:46AM (#37723700) Homepage
      Eh, it is difficult to predict which papers will create a media firestorm and which won't. It often only seems obvious in retrospect that a given subject will be the sort that creates a media circus. This is a form of hindsight bias.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindsight_bias [wikipedia.org]. Paper titles that are descriptive, amusing and more memorable are not a bad thing.
    • by hydrofix (1253498)
      Psychopathy is not a "mental disorder." Most psychopaths don't consider themselves sick.
      • As do most people who have a mental disorder, unless they are directly confronted with it.
        • Re:PR Stunt (Score:5, Informative)

          by king neckbeard (1801738) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @09:58AM (#37723748)
          The disorder, disease, or syndrome label works under the assumption that there is something wrong with the person in question. However, many things classed as those don't mean the person thinks incorrectly, but rather differently. It wasn't too long ago that homosexuality was considered a mental disorder in the DSM.
          • Re:PR Stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

            by ceoyoyo (59147) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @02:18PM (#37725442)

            A general criteria for a mental disease is that it has a strong negative effect on your life or someone else's. Psychopathy, at least the kind these guys studied, results in people getting killed.

            The field of mental health has made some mistakes but I don't think calling psychopathy a disease is one of them.

      • by Surt (22457)

        And 100% of those with severe delusional disorders don't consider themselves sick. That's not the right argument for psychopathy not being illness.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "Most psychopaths don't consider themselves sick."

        Agreed, they consider themselves politicians.

        • by arielCo (995647)
          [Most] politicians claim to consider themselves public servants, and in reality consider themselves "winners", which is code for "sociopaths".
      • How do they know the control group wasn't psychopaths? Maybe what they are measuring is the speech pattern differences in relaxed "out of the closet" pyscopaths versus psychopaths in hiding.

        • by Surt (22457)

          Psychopathy is rare. Any decent sized random sample of college students would suffice as a control.

      • Nor do most people with schizophrenia, but I think just about anybody who is *not* schizophrenic would regard it as a mental disorder.

        For that matter, most drunk people don't consider themselves impaired. When your mental machinery gets a spanner in the works. your ability to judge your own mental state is one of the first things to go out the window.

    • "Hungry like the wolf: A word-pattern analysis of the language of psychopaths," Legal and Criminological Psychology

      With an irresponsible paper title like that, the authors were inviting a media circus. We're talking about research into people with mental disorder here, not a new friday night drama series.

      I assume the title is referring to the eponymous main character of Steppenwolf, a Hermann Hesse novel about a man who might be described as a psychopath.

    • As Yoda's evil twin would say.

    • Experts in this domain do not consider psychopaths as sick people! Regardless of what you and I might consider normal and not, it is not our job to determine who is and who is not sick. Are you saying that the psychopath who never committed a crime before, and only left a trail of lets say 'damaged relationships' be put in an asylum ? because if he is sick, that's where he should go!
      • by hedwards (940851)

        That requires a citation. Psychopathy is an illness, it's not presently curable and the only methods of treatment tend to just result in more abhorrent behavior. The diagnosis itself has been folded into another diagnosis and there's still some controversy as to how precisely to categorize it, but it's extremely clear that it is indeed a type of mental illness.

        Some professionals do indeed consider it a moral judgment, but it's really not any more of a moral judgment than any of the other diagnoses they use

        • Psychopathy is an illness, it's not presently curable and the only methods of treatment tend to just result in more abhorrent behavior.

          Can you provide a currently accepted manual of diagnosis that lists psychopathy as a disease or disorder? I've looked through the DSM and ICD and can't seem to find it. The reason it's not in either of the accepted diagnostics manuals is because it would be a a Personality Disorder and the personality disorder criteria includes "the individual's characteristic and enduring patterns of inner experience and behaviour as a whole deviate markedly from the culturally expected and accepted range". Psychopathic be

          • Killing people for fun is frowned upon by virtually all cultures. This isn't some transient fad. Simply being a psychopath doesn't get you incarcerated. It is the behaviour it leads to when the lack of empathy, lack of moral, and narcissism lead to acts that please the psychopath while harming those around him.

            In what way does western culture promote psychopathic behaviour?

      • I wonder what they would have found out if they compared their results to the speech patterns of corporate CEO's.
    • by El Torico (732160)

      We're talking about research into people with mental disorder here, not a new friday night drama series.

      You're right, it's more reality TV.

  • by epine (68316) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @09:41AM (#37723678)

    When I was younger, I used "because" and "since" in my writing about twice as often. Never terribly pleased by the effect--that's just how it came out. They are fairly weak transitions, useful mostly if you want a weak transition which detracts less from a central element.

    This excess tapered off as I became more deeply immersed in my subject matter with age and experience. In my own history, these words were sign posts of incomplete thinking.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      My guess, reciting facts as you are learning vs. understanding a subject. A is A because of B (memorized.) vs A is A in relation to B when.... (understood)

    • by fey000 (1374173) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @10:04AM (#37723790)
      I often use the term "Kill the whores!" when excited and "Demons are coming to rape my skull!" when leaving. Does this classify me as a psychopath or just an average academic?
      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @10:15AM (#37723870) Homepage

        I often use the term "Kill the whores!" when excited and "Demons are coming to rape my skull!" when leaving. Does this classify me as a psychopath or just an average academic?

        Yes.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Does this classify me as a psychopath or just an average academic?

        Wikipedia is your friend. [wikipedia.org]

        Psychopathy (/saÉËkÉ'pÉ(TM)Îi/[1][2]) is a mental disorder characterized primarily by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentricity, and deceptiveness. Psychopaths are highly prone to antisocial behavior and abusive treatment of others, and are very disproportionately responsible for violent crime. Though lacking empathy and emotional depth, they often manage to pass themselv

      • by flosofl (626809)
        Actually (to be a buzz kill and totally ruin the joke... sorry), that means you're psychotic, not psychopathic.
    • ever terribly pleased by the effect--that's just how it came out. They are fairly weak transitions,

      IF you're still interested in improving the power and directness of your writing, work on removing excess "just" and "fairly" qualifiers.

  • From TFA:

    "psychopathic murderers make identifiable word choices – beyond their conscious control – when talking about their crimes."

    So we aren't talking about all psychos, just the murdering ones. And apparently only about how they refer to their crimes. But they immediately make the jump to using it as a predictive tool on social media, making it sound like you could scan peoples' Facebook postings and play "spot the killer".

    Seems like a troll to me. Shame on you Cornell University Press Relati

    • by CTalkobt (81900)
      Repeat after me,

      Just because A implies B, does not mean that B implies A.

      ( A = Identifiable word choices, B = Psychopathic Murderers ).

      • by Surt (22457)

        You got A and B backward.

      • by ppanon (16583)
        True. On the other hand if you've got more than one really good suspect for a crime and only one of your candidates shows the right speech patterns, it's probably worth taking a closer look at that one first.
      • by wmbetts (1306001)

        He used the word "because"! KILL HIM WITH FIRE!

    • I think this is true for all of them. A psychopath just doesn't give a damn about anyone else. This is what you can identify him by.

      I have no doubt that the biggest a-holes you can think of are all psychopaths. Possibly more or less by definition even though psychopaths/socipaths can be recognized by brain pattern.

      I said it before on slashdot, that a good way to know someone is like this, even when he tries to hide his nature to fit in as psychopaths/sociopaths do, is by looking at reversible argument
      • by corbettw (214229)

        If you're going to argue from hindsight that a certain behavior is/was a predictor for psychopathy, you need to pick a target who's been formally identified as a psychopath. Bush may have been an ass, but so far as I know he's not been diagnosed as a psychopath (neither has Gore, again as far as I know). So using either of them in your argument is just political grandstanding and detracts from your argument, IMO.

      • by flosofl (626809) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @10:26AM (#37723934) Homepage
        Your relationship with Logic makes me think you met it once at a party, shook its hand to be polite, and then moved on to talk to all the interesting people never giving it a second thought.
      • by xero314 (722674)

        A Horizon programme (BBC, UK) recently talked about psychopaths in "Are you good or are you evil" and these people are often in boards of companies, or high level bosses or whatever. A way they said they could identify these psychopaths is by the fact that half the people working for such a person hates him, the other half think he (she?) is great.

        This is because of a couple things Horizon left out. First Corporations are by definition Psychopathic, so those that lead corporations tend to appear psychopathic. Second Horizon, like many media outlets, confused Psychopathic with Narcissistic.

        Sadly both Psychopathic and Narcissistic behavior is highly encouraged in western culture, which it turn means they don't actually qualify as Personality Disorders, which is why Neither are listed in the ICD, and with the removal of Narcissistic Personality Disor

    • Inconveniently(but understandably) the population available for research tends to skew very heavily toward the sorts of psychopaths whose behavior gets them sent to prison for violent crimes.

      There is abundant reason to suspect that a fair few somewhat smarter ones, who exhibit many of the same undesirable traits but know that overt violent crime usually isn't the best way to get what you want, walk among us; but locating them and convincing them to sit down for some research is tricky. The ones doing tim
      • Is it possible that the language they are selecting for is simply some form of "prisoner's dialect", instead of a sampling of "sociopathy"? For example, Canadians tend to punctuate verbally with "Eh", and New England urban teens typically finish sentences with "Yo", and use the term "wicked" a lot (or at least they did 20 years ago when I was there). This could be an interpretation of a dialectical shift based on the environment the subject is now occupying, rather than any useful data. It might also be wis

  • There may be something to this. Certainly if I hear someone using the terms "liver", "fava beans" and "chianti" too often in a conversation, I start to get worried.
    • by ddxexex (1664191)

      There may be something to this. Certainly if I hear someone using the terms "liver", "fava beans" and "chianti" too often in a conversation, I start to get worried.

      I see that your bad keyword to sentence ratio is 150%.
      Thanks for warning me not to go to your house for dinner.

    • It's the "ffffssssfffssssffffsssffffsss" noise that usually tips me off.

  • I mean, who thought you could seriously learn about psychopathic killers from a bunch of talking heads [youtube.com]?

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @10:24AM (#37723928) Journal
    Hello, speech analysis, I am proud to welcome you to the select club of phrenology, graphology, astrology and numerology.
  • Can we use something like IBM's Watson to realtime parse and evaluate political rhetoric?

    A "Psyco Score" at the bottom of the screen during election debates would be quite novel...

    • Do you really want to blow up the machine? I'm not sure it can handle their load of BS.

    • by PPH (736903)
      We could use a "-nuts" moderation score on Slashdot.
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      Can we use something like IBM's Watson to realtime parse and evaluate political rhetoric?

      That depends on the meaning of the word "is".

  • For the budding psychopaths out there who want to "fit in" better with society, here's how to change your speech patterns.

    1) Join Toastmasters along with someone you see frequently (a significant other, close friend, or coworker).

    It's cheap, and they will teach you ways to improve your speech - how to recognize disfluencies, for instance.

    2) Play a game with your partner where every time they hear you make a mistake, they say "ding!". That's all - just "ding!" every time they hear a problem.

    (For what it's worth I've found that GF's are particularly good at noticing such flaws.)

    It takes a week or two, but the constant feedback will eventually sink in and you'll be able to hold long conversations without saying "ah", "um", "you know", and so on.

    3) Rhythm, meter, and pauses are more difficult. Find a newscaster whose vocal style you like and record one of their broadcasts.

    It doesn't matter whether you agree with their point of view, only that you like their vocal variety. (You could choose Rush Limbaugh, for instance.) I chose Morley Safer.

    Edit the broadcasts into individual sentences and rip these to a CD as individual tracks. While you are driving to work, play a sentence on infinite repeat. Recite the sentence along with the speaker over and over. Try to recite it exactly, mimicking the pauses and intonations.

    You'll spend a few iterations just remembering the words. Once you know the words, your ear will start to pick out subtle emphasis and pauses used by the speaker. You'll start to learn when to pause (after prepositions, for instance), where to put emphasis to make a point, and so on.

    When you get bored, switch to another sentence.

    Don't do the mimicry thing more than a couple of weeks or you'll end up sounding *exactly* like the broadcaster. Switch to another one, mix it up a little.

    As a side effect of all this, people will view your method of speech as more meaningful, you will be perceived as more reliable and confident, and people will give you greater respect.

    • by Surt (22457)

      Unfortunately, in step 2, your proposed psychopath was unable to resist murdering his opponent after the first ding. Poor impulse control in that population makes this kind of long term plan very unlikely to be useful.

    • Rush Limbaugh would be an especially interesting choice, as his vocal patterns are somewhat influenced by his deafness, which is only partially mitigated by the installation of cyborg ear parts.

  • The psychopath uses a teleprompter?

  • fuck you (Score:5, Funny)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <erauqssemitelcric>> on Saturday October 15, 2011 @10:34AM (#37724002) Homepage Journal

    no fucking way word patterns indicate psychopathology you ignorant motherfucker

    i'll take a fucking broomstick and ram it down your fucking gullet if i hear one fucking peep from your ignorant piehole about word patterns indicating a propensity for psychopathology and then rape your mother with the same fucking broomstick. are fucking listening to me?

  • by Fished (574624) <amphigory@gAAAmail.com minus threevowels> on Saturday October 15, 2011 @10:57AM (#37724130)
    We already know that excessive pauses in acting predict stupid commercials for Internet Startups and really bad science fiction. Damn... You... Khhaaaaannnn!!!!
  • wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by superwiz (655733) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @11:12AM (#37724244) Journal

    psychopaths used more conjunctions such as “because “ or “since,”

    Sounds like another attempt to label left-brain people as psychopaths.

  • This would never be allowed to be used in America. God forbid politicians and CEOs hear about this technology.

  • The real meat of their software is a small routine that counts references to Huey Lewis, any mention of this artist more than 3 times in a 10 minute period results in a 100% match.

  • And they found that the following individuals sounded like psychos: Lloyd Blankfein, Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, Stephen Schwarzman, Peter G. Peterson, both of the Koch brothers, Hank Paulson, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, Henry Kissinger, Richard Perle, Jonathan Kay, ........
  • the popular press has already gone headline-nonlinear about it."

    Don't get any ideas. Slashdot is also the popular press.

  • by Livius (318358) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @05:57PM (#37726648)

    I work as a transcriptionist, including transcribing political debates, and having to listen to people word for word I can attest that you can get a sense of when people are lying, and when they are saying something new versus something already known from their perspective, although it's not clear how reliable the correlations really are.

    I'm wondering what their control group was. If they're analysing the speech of people "when talking about their crimes", then they presumably are not comparing them with the general population who have no convictions.

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