Events picture

Meet the PI Lecture May 5, 2017, 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm Starzl Biomedical Science Tower, Room S120

Thinking Differently about Suicidal Behavior: Decision Processes, Cognitive Deficits, and Social Reasoning

 Katalin Szanto, MD
 Associate Professor of Psychiatry 
 University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine




For most people suicide is a transient phenomenon, and the trajectories leading towards suicide can potentially be changed. Dr. Szántó’s research aims to investigate what makes people suicidal. Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh, she worked at the National Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology of Hungary and at the Crisis Intervention Center in Budapest. She has a 25-year history of treating patients with mood disorders, particularly those who have attempted suicide and their families. Her research on suicidal behavior has encompassed a psychological autopsy study, a suicide prevention program in primary care, and interviewing practitioners who have lost patients by suicide.  She founded the Longitudinal Research Program in Late-Life Suicide at the University of Pittsburgh to understand the interacting risk and protective factors related to biological and psychosocial factors of aging contributing to the elevated suicide rate in late-life. She has been a grant reviewer for several national and international agencies, and has been serving on the Research Grant Committee of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Dr. Szántó’s lab was instrumental in showing that suicidal behavior is facilitated by deficits in cognitive performance and the ability to make optimal decisions. We propose that the tendency to make disadvantageous decisions is the link between core aspects of the suicidal diathesis and suicide attempts. For example, we have demonstrated that suicide attempters with medically serious (near fatal) attempts are more likely to be impaired in decision-making tasks that have high cognitive control demand. These individuals also have failures in cost-benefit analysis during social interactions, whereas low-lethality attempters have deficits incorporating time into decisions. Dr. Szántó's current research evaluate the predictive value of these risk factors on prospectively assessed suicidal behavior through a behavioral economics perspective, using neurocognitive assessments, game theory experiments, and decision-process measures. 

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of this lecture, participants should be able to:

  1. Understand suicidal behavior is heterogeneous and emerges from a confluence of multiple risk factors, e.g., depression, personality characteristics, cognitive and decision-making deficits, and environmental factors.
  2. Discuss the importance of cognitive deficits and decision processes associated with suicidal behavior.
  3. Summerize multilevel evaluation of decision-making (life-long life decision-making patterns, decision-competence, game theory experiments, intertemporal choice, etc) assist in suicide risk assessment and can guide tailoring individual treatment of high suicide risk individuals.

Continuing Education Credit:  The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians.  The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine designates this educational activity for a maximum of 1.5 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM.  Each physician should only claim credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.  Other health care professionals are awarded .15 continuing education units (CEUs), which are equal to 1.5 contact hours.  In accordance with Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education requirements on disclosure, information about relationships of presenters with commercial interests (if any) will be included in materials which will be distributed at the time of the conference.  WPIC is approved by the American Psychological Association to offer continuing education for psychologists.  WPIC maintains responsibility for this program and its contents.  This program is being offered for 1.5 continuing education credits. 

For more information regarding this lecture, please contact Frances Patrick at