Multimodal assessment of communicative-pragmatic features in schizophrenia: a machine learning approach

An impairment in pragmatic communication is a core feature of schizophrenia, often associated with difficulties in social interactions. The pragmatic deficits regard various pragmatic phenomena, e.g., direct and indirect communicative acts, deceit, irony, and include not only the use of language but also other expressive means such as non-verbal/extralinguistic modalities, e.g., gestures and body movements, and paralinguistic cues, e.g., prosody and tone of voice. The present paper focuses on the identification of those pragmatic features, i.e., communicative phenomena and expressive modalities, that more reliably discriminate between individuals with schizophrenia and healthy controls. We performed a multimodal assessment of communicative-pragmatic ability, and applied a machine learning approach, specifically a Decision Tree model, with the aim of identifying the pragmatic features that best separate the data into the two groups, i.e., individuals with schizophrenia and healthy controls, and represent their configuration. The results indicated good overall performance of the Decision Tree model, with mean Accuracy of 82%, Sensitivity of 76%, and Precision of 91%. Linguistic irony emerged as the most relevant pragmatic phenomenon in distinguishing between the two groups, followed by violation of the Gricean maxims, and then extralinguistic deceitful and sincere communicative acts. The results are discussed in light of the pragmatic theoretical literature, and their clinical relevance in terms of content and design of both assessment and rehabilitative trainin