New Cognitive Science Tool to Shed Light on Mental Health

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 30,000 active duty members and veterans have taken their own lives – four times as many as those killed in post-911 military operations.1 Current methods to detect early signs of behavioral and mental health risk factors rely on self-reporting and screening questionnaires, which can’t reliably predict suicidality. Effective behavioral health assessment is a mission-critical capability requiring novel tools to identify and help those at risk.

Today, DARPA announced the Neural Evidence Aggregation Tool (NEAT) program. NEAT aims to develop a new cognitive science tool that identifies people at risk of suicide by using preconscious brain signals rather than asking questions and waiting for consciously filtered responses.

“NEAT is a proof-of-concept effort attempting to develop a new tool for mental and behavioral health screening that moves us beyond historical and current methods of questions and consciously filtered responses,” said Greg Witkop, a former Army surgeon and current program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “Using the preconscious will hopefully enable us to detect signs of depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation earlier and more reliably than ever before. If successful, NEAT will not only significantly augment behavioral health screening, but it could also serve as a new way to assess ultimate treatment efficacy, since patients will often tell their clinicians what they think the clinician wants to hear rather than how they are truly feeling.”

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