According to the Wall Street Journal, researchers at the universities of Southern California and Utah have invented a computer program that analyzes the speech of couples to diagnose problems in marriage counseling.
The computer can predict the future of a marriage by focusing on the tone and inflection of a husband and wife during therapy. As part of the project, researchers used the computer to analyze 74 distinct acoustic features of each person’s voice.
While common elements of speech like volume and pitch were considered, the computer also rated more specific components of couples’ voices. One of the more abstract elements of speech analyzed was “jitter and shimmer,” which one researcher described as a measure of shakiness.
Poor communication is a primary cause of many divorces, and The Stir recently reported that honing one’s speaking and listening skills is the first step in repairing a broken marriage.
“The most common thing that motivates couples to seek counseling is fear that the marriage will not endure and last,” said Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, CA. “Something is not going right, and there’s usually a communication breakdown.”
The researchers from USC and Utah claim that the computer achieved nearly 78% accuracy when predicting whether recovery would occur in a marriage. However, they added that the technology was merely created to help human marriage counselors rather than replace them entirely.
Changing the dynamic of a relationship takes time and effort, so failing couples who see this new technology as a quick and easy way to save their marriage may be disappointed.
“I agree that this is only a limited assessment tool and not a replacement for in person counseling. You gain a lot by meeting with a therapist for couple’s counseling,” said Steve Weinman, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Founder of Family First Therapy. “When couples come to my office for face-to-face sessions, it gives them the opportunity to work on the core issues of their relationship in addition to communication skills. Also, physical interactions such as handholding, where they sit, etc., is important in couple’s therapy, something that can’t be achieved with the computer.”
It will still be a few years before any couples see the new computer during counseling sessions, but researchers have already considered ways to integrate the technology into homes right now.
One possibility is converting the computer into a smartphone app or device that is placed in the home to analyze conversations between couples. However, researchers are currently focusing finding ways for the technology to help therapists before introducing it to the public.