Background and hypothesis: Motor abnormalities are predictive of psychosis onset in individuals at clinical high risk (CHR) for psychosis and are tied to its progression. We hypothesize that these motor abnormalities also disrupt their speech production (a highly complex motor behavior) and predict CHR individuals will produce more variable speech than healthy controls, and that this variability will relate to symptom severity, motor measures, and psychosis-risk calculator risk scores. Study design: We measure variability in speech production (variability in consonants, vowels, speech rate, and pausing/timing) in N = 58 CHR participants and N = 67 healthy controls. Three different tasks are used to elicit speech: diadochokinetic speech (rapidly-repeated syllables e.g., papapa…, pataka…), read speech, and spontaneously-generated speech. Study results: Individuals in the CHR group produced more variable consonants and exhibited greater speech rate variability than healthy controls in two of the three speech tasks (diadochokinetic and read speech). While there were no significant correlations between speech measures and remotely-obtained motor measures, symptom severity, or conversion risk scores, these comparisons may be under-powered (in part due to challenges of remote data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic). Conclusion: This study provides a thorough and theory-driven first look at how speech production is affected in this at-risk population and speaks to the promise and challenges facing this approach moving forward.
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