A new system which helps doctors determine suicidal thoughts within patients is being developed at NUI Maynooth’s Department of Psychology.

Silicon Republic reports on the new computer-based system, called the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP), which is being developed by Irish researchers Prof Dermot Barnes-Holmes from the Department of Psychology at NUI Maynooth and Ian Hussey, a PhD student at the university.

Doctors are presently promising an accuracy rate of 75 percent with the new technology. They are hopeful that their new system can be used to help determine the risk of suicide in a patient and what kind of treatment plan can be utilized.

Using the IRAP system, participants must confirm or refute statements under time constraints. Reaction times are processed using algorithms which helps to determine unconscious attitudes or biases that can predict the patient’s actual behavior.

The system has so far been tested on 24 participants out of St. Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin.

Professor Barnes-Holmes explained that some of the most difficult behaviors to predict are those that occur very rarely but have devastating consequences, such as suicide.

PhD student Hussey said the system uses tiny reaction-time biases to reveal unconscious attitudes and intentions.

"It can pick up on things that the individual themselves might not be aware of. This makes it ideal to study self-harmful and suicidal behaviour. Our test is also less invasive than traditional methods that require people to talk openly about their struggle with suicidal thinking," said Hussey.

Hussey added that the aim is of the research is to help doctors identify priority cases for psychological care when people present at hospitals and A&E departments.

The NUI Maynooth project is funded by the Irish Research Council and is a finalist in the 'Making a Difference' Awards that are run by the Higher Education Authority to acknowledge impactful post-graduate research work.