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Electrical Engineering Seminars

Assessing Neuromotor Coordination in Depression Using Inverted Vocal Tract Variables

Carol Espy-Wilson, Professor, University of Maryland

Friday, Nov 20, 2020

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According to the World Health Organization, 264 million people worldwide suffer from Major Depression Disorder (MDD). MDD is the most common precursor to suicide, and suicidality is the third leading cause of death in youth and young adults (between 10 and 24 years of age). A necessary feature of MDD is psychomotor retardation, a condition which also tracks depression severity.  Psychomotor retardation affects all actions of a person including motility, ideation and speech. Our work has focused on the ways in which speech production is changed by a person’s mental health status.  Speech articulation is a complex activity that requires finely timed coordination across articulators, i.e., tongue, jaw, lips, velum and glottis. In a depressed state, this coordination changes and in turn modifies the perceived speech signal.  In this talk, I will discuss a speech inversion system that maps the acoustic signal into vocal tract variables (TVs) that serve as a direct measure of constriction degree and constriction location.  Next I will discuss how we use the correlation between the TVs to quantify changes in speech produced by subjects when they are depressed relative to when they are in remission and relative to healthy controls.  The ultimate goal is the development of a system that can help therapists and patients with early detection, assessment and monitoring.

Speaker Bio

Carol Espy-Wilson is a Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and the Institute for Systems Research at the University of Maryland.

Dr. Espy-Wilson received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.  She received her M.S., E.E. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Maryland, Dr. Espy-Wilson was a faculty member at Boston University.

Dr. Espy-Wilson's research is in speech communication. She combines knowledge of digital signal processing, speech science, linguistics, acoustic phonetics and machine learning to conduct interdisciplinary research in speech production and perception, speech and speaker recognition, speech enhancement and single-channel speech segregation.  She also analyzes speech as a behavioral signal for emotion recognition, sentiment analysis and the detection and monitoring of mental health.

Her company, OmniSpeech, translated research in her lab on noise suppression and speech enhancement to technology that improves speech-enabled technology in any device, app or platform.

Dr. Espy-Wilson has authored or coauthored numerous papers in journals, conference proceedings and books. She is a Fellow of the International Speech Communication Association (ICSA) and the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) and a Senior Member of IEEE. She has been a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard and a Clare Boothe Luce Professor at Boston University. She received a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award and a Women of Influence Award from UMD.  She has served as an elected member of the Speech and Language Technical Committee of IEEE, as the elected Chair of the Speech Technical Committee of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), Associate Editor of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and Associate Editor of ASA’s magazine Acoustics Today.   She has served in several capacities with the National Institutes of Health including being a member the Language and Communication Study Section, a member of the National Advisory Board for Medical Rehabilitation, a member of the Advisory Council for the NIH National Institutes on Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and is now serving on the Advisory Council for the National Institute for Deaf and Communication Disorders.


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