The algorithm did a better job of predicting whether you marriage would survive than therapists did
A new computer algorithm can predict whether a married couple’s relationship improved or worsened over time, based on their tone of voice when speaking to each other.
In fact, the algorithm – which was correct 79 per cent of the time – was more accurate than session notes provided by therapists, when predicting marital success of couples with serious relationship issues.
Invented by researchers at the University of Southern California, the algorithm was based on hundreds of conversations from 134 couples taken during marriage counseling sessions over two years.
The researchers then tracked the couples’ marital status for five years and the results were published in Proceedings of Interspeech.
The algorithm broke the conversations down, using speech processing technology, into its acoustic characteristics – volume, pitch, intensity, jitter and shimmer, which can measure whether someone’s voice is shaking or warbling, perhaps due to emotion.
These features were then tracked across a single therapy session, as well as across multiple sessions to model the pattern of emotional changes that couples go through.
The outcomes of a couple’s marriage was based on a self-reported rating of 1-4, where 1 represents “deterioration” and 4 is “recovered.”
“It’s not just about studying your emotions,” said Shrikanth Narayanan, who led the team. “It’s about studying the impact of what your partner says on your emotions.”
Once the algorithm had been trained to spot patterns, it was pitted against behavioural analyses made by human experts who had coded the couples’ responses with tags like “acceptance” or “blame.” The voice-based algorithm came out on top, with 79 pc accuracy against therapists’ 75pc.
As the paper says, the marital outcome of couples in therapy has been interesting to psychologists for many years, because of the lack of objective measures to track their progress.
This algorithm could finally be a scientific tool to help counselors tailor and personalise therapy sessions.
To improve the accuracy of the algorithm even further, Narayanan’s team plans to also include actual language (the words used in counseling sessions) as well as the body language of the couples as part of the predictive features.
Ultimately, it’s not just what you say that matters in a marriage – it’s about how you say it.