Acoustic differences between healthy and depressed people: a cross-situation study

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Background Abnormalities in vocal expression during a depressed episode have frequently been reported in people with depression, but less is known about if these abnormalities only exist in special situations. In addition, the impacts of irrelevant demographic variables on voice were uncontrolled in previous studies. Therefore, this study compares the vocal differences between depressed and healthy people under various situations with irrelevant variables being regarded as covariates.

Methods To examine whether the vocal abnormalities in people with depression only exist in special situations, this study compared the vocal differences between healthy people and patients with unipolar depression in 12 situations (speech scenarios). Positive, negative and neutral voice expressions between depressed and healthy people were compared in four tasks. Multiple analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was used for evaluating the main effects of variable group (depressed vs. healthy) on acoustic features. The significances of acoustic features were evaluated by both statistical significance and magnitude of effect size.

Results The results of multivariate analysis of covariance showed that significant differences between the two groups were observed in all 12 speech scenarios. Although significant acoustic features were not the same in different scenarios, we found that three acoustic features (loudness, MFCC5 and MFCC7) were consistently different between people with and without depression with large effect magnitude.

Conclusions Vocal differences between depressed and healthy people exist in 12 scenarios. Acoustic features including loudness, MFCC5 and MFCC7 have potentials to be indicators for identifying depression via voice analysis. These findings support that depressed people’s voices include both situation-specific and cross-situational patterns of acoustic features.




BMC Psychiatry. 2019 Oct 15;19(1):300