A direct comparison of theory-driven and machine learning prediction of suicide: A meta-analysis
Theoretically-driven models of suicide have long guided suicidology; however, an approach employing machine learning models has recently emerged in the field. Some have suggested that machine learning models yield improved prediction as compared to theoretical approaches, but to date, this has not been investigated in a systematic manner. The present work directly compares widely researched theories of suicide (i.e., BioSocial, Biological, Ideation-to-Action, and Hopelessness Theories) to
... Theories) to machine learning models, comparing the accuracy between the two differing approaches. We conducted literature searches using PubMed, PsycINFO, and Google Scholar, gathering effect sizes from theoretically-relevant constructs and machine learning models. Eligible studies were longitudinal research articles that predicted suicide ideation, attempts, or death published prior to May 1, 2020. 124 studies met inclusion criteria, corresponding to 330 effect sizes. Theoretically-driven models demonstrated suboptimal prediction of ideation (wOR = 2.87; 95% CI, 2.65–3.09; k = 87), attempts (wOR = 1.43; 95% CI, 1.34–1.51; k = 98), and death (wOR = 1.08; 95% CI, 1.01–1.15; k = 78). Generally, Ideation-to-Action (wOR = 2.41, 95% CI = 2.21–2.64, k = 60) outperformed Hopelessness (wOR = 1.83, 95% CI 1.71–1.96, k = 98), Biological (wOR = 1.04; 95% CI .97–1.11, k = 100), and BioSocial (wOR = 1.32, 95% CI 1.11–1.58, k = 6) theories. Machine learning provided superior prediction of ideation (wOR = 13.84; 95% CI, 11.95–16.03; k = 33), attempts (wOR = 99.01; 95% CI, 68.10–142.54; k = 27), and death (wOR = 17.29; 95% CI, 12.85–23.27; k = 7). Findings from our study indicated that across all theoretically-driven models, prediction of suicide-related outcomes was suboptimal. Notably, among theories of suicide, theories within the Ideation-to-Action framework provided the most accurate prediction of suicide-related outcomes. When compared to theoretically-driven models, machine learning models provided superior prediction of suicide ideation, attempts, and death.