Researchers from Australia’s peak scientific body have developed a computer program capable of helping diagnose mental health disorders.

The game, developed by the Data61 team at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), tracks the users’ behaviour as they respond to game queries instead of being subjected to a bout of the clinician’s questioning.

Having tested the game on 34 people who suffered depression, 33 with bipolar disorder, and 34 who were of sound mental health, the researchers analysed the data by neural networks that distinguished the differences between healthy players and those with disorders.

According to the researches, the new technology represents a possible step-change in the emerging field of computational psychiatry and would allow clinicians develop more personalized treatment plans based on an individual’s unique diagnosis.

“Currently, 69 per cent of bipolar patients are initially misdiagnosed and around one-third of these patients might remain misdiagnosed for 10 years or more,” Amir Dezfouli, the neuroscientist who led the study, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“If we can understand how the brain works, we can develop more accurate processes for diagnosis and more effective treatments for people with mental health disorders.

“Characterising mental health disorders in granular detail could allow clinicians to develop more personalised treatment plans based on an individual’s unique diagnosis.’’

The game, which is simplistic in nature, works by presenting the patients with two option; where they are made to make a choice by opting for one of two boxes of different colours and obtaining as many smiley faces reactions as possible.

“We can extract patterns. Some subjects just go on back and forth between the boxes. Some of them try one for a while, to see if it’s good or not, and then if it’s not they switch to the other one,” Dezfouli added.

“With bipolar people we found that we have a higher tendency of going back and forth between these two options and between these two boxes, while the healthy subjects stick with one of the options for for a longer time.

“Instead of asking questions about, for example, how they feel, or about different things in life, this computer game directly taps into the decision-making system. It gives us first-hand information about what is happening in the brain, which can be an alternative route of information for diagnosis.”



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