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Measuring the suicidal mind
Date:4/12/2010

Following the suicide of a relative or close friend, surviving family members and friends are left with a number of painful questions: "What made them do it?," "Why didn't they get help?" The most troublesome question is often, "Is there anything I could have done to prevent this?" People who are contemplating suicide tend to conceal their behavior, or deny they are having suicidal thoughts, so it can be difficult to identify warning signs. Even experienced clinicians sometimes do not catch any warning signs and suicide experts have been searching for a clear behavioral marker of suicide risk.

Psychological scientist Matthew Nock of Harvard University, along with colleagues from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, adapted the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure associations between life and death/ suicide and examined if it could be effective in predicting suicide risk. The IAT is a widely used test that measures automatic associations people hold about various topics participants are shown pairs of words and how quickly they respond indicates if they unconsciously associate those words together. In the IAT version used in this study, participants classified words related to "life" (e.g., breathing) and "death" (e.g., dead) and "me" (e.g., mine) and "not me" (e.g., them). Faster responses to "death"/"me" stimuli than "life"/"me" stimuli would suggest a stronger association between death and self.

People seeking treatment at a psychiatric emergency room participated in this study. They completed the IAT and various mental health assessments. In addition, their medical records were examined six months later to see if they had attempted suicide within that time.

The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, revealed that participants presenting to the emergency room after a suicide attempt had a stronger implicit association between death/ suici
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Contact: Barbara Isanski
bisanski@psychologicalscience.org
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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