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Test May Measure Suicidal Tendencies

'Implicit associations' might help mental health workers gauge patient's state of mind, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, April 14 (HealthDay News) -- A widely used psychological test has the potential to gauge how people feel about suicide, possibly giving mental-health workers more insight into what their patients are thinking, a new study suggests.

The Implicit Association Test is used to show whether people automatically associate things with each other. Test takers are shown pairs of words, and the quickness of their reactions to them is thought to show whether they unconsciously link them.

Harvard University psychology student Matthew Nock and colleagues gave a version of the test to people seeking psychiatric treatment at an emergency room. The test version was designed to detect if patients connected death to themselves.

In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers found that patients who'd previously tried to commit suicide were more likely to strongly link death and self than other patients. They were also more likely to try to kill themselves within the next three months compared to those who made stronger connections between life and self.

"These results are really exciting because they address a long-standing scientific and clinical dilemma by identifying a method of measuring how people are thinking about death and suicide that does not rely on their self-report," Nock said in a statement.

"We are hopeful that this line of research ultimately will provide scientists and clinicians with new tools for measuring how people think about sensitive clinical behaviors that they may be unwilling or unable to report on verbally," he said.

More information

For more about suicide, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

--- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, April 12, 2010

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