Depression screening using a non-verbal self-association task: A machine-learning based pilot study

Yang S. Liu, Yipeng Song, Naomi A. Lee, Daniel M. Bennett, Katherine S. Button, Andrew Greenshaw, Bo Cao, Jie Sui

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)
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Background: Effective screening is important to combat the raising burden of depression and opens a critical time window for early intervention. Clinical use of non-verbal depression screening is nascent, yet a promising and viable candidate to supplement verbal screening. Differential self- and emotion-processing in depression patients were previously reported by non-verbal behavioural assessments, corroborated by neuroimaging findings of distinct neuroanatomical markers. Thus non-verbal validated brain-behaviour based self-emotion-related assessment data reflect physiological differences and may support individual level screening of depression. Methods: In this pilot study (n = 84) we collected two longitudinal sessions of behavioural assessment data in a laboratory setting. Depression was assessed using Beck Depression Inventory II (BDI-II), to explore optimal screening methods with machine-learning, and to establish the validity of adapting a novel behavioural assessment focusing on self and emotions for depression screening. Results: The best machine-learning model achieved high performance in depression screening, 10-Fold cross-validation (CV) Area Under the receiver operating characteristic Curve (AUC) of 0.90 and balanced accuracy of 0.81, using a Gradient Boosting algorithm. Prospective prediction using a model trained with session 1 data to predict session 2 depression status achieved a 10-Fold CV AUC of 0.77 and balanced accuracy of 0.66. We also identified interpretable behavioural signatures for depression patients based on the best model. Conclusion: The study supports the utility of using behavioural data as a viable and cost-effective solution for depression screening, with a potential wide range of applications in clinical settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-95
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date23 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022


  • Depression
  • Machine-learning
  • Matching technique
  • Self
  • Sensitive objective measurement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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