Instagram filters may offer snapshot of mental health

by Abel Hampton August 11, 2017, 0:08
Instagram filters may offer snapshot of mental health

Your Instagram feed may be better at recognizing signs of depression than your doctor, according to a study from researchers at Harvard University and the University of Vermont. Higher posting frequency was also associated with depression, with depressed participants more likely to post photos with faces - but with a lower average face count than healthy participants. As per the study, it was more likely for the people affected with depression to post images which included faces of people.

The new study looked at how a computer algorithm can gain insight into the state of your mental health and potential signs of depression, just by studying the photographs you choose to upload.

The study only looked at 166 Instagram users, and it doesn't necessarily mean that it would work for all users; it's possible, for example, that people who were willing to participate in the study and give access to their accounts don't well represent everyone who uses the site.

As a part of this study, volunteers were asked to differentiate the Instagram posts of healthy as well as depressed people. Earlier studies have shown that general practitioners correctly diagnose depression in patients about 42 percent of the time.

Even the way depressed and healthy people chose to present their photos on Instagram was different.

"There are reasons why depression is called blue, and why people associate red with raging, and why people say depression is like a dark or black cloud", Galynker said.

Filters, if used at all, prevalence of colours and how many comments and likes each post received were examined.

Many studies have previously churned out conflicting conclusions on whether these portals affect users' mental health, with some saying it causes depression and others saying it helps those suffering from it.

Depression can reveal itself in the pictures you post to your Instagram in the same way sighs and slumped shoulders giveaway that you are sad. The team wound up collecting nearly 44,000 photos from these volunteers, as well as responses to individual questionnaires assessing their level of depression. They were also less likely to use filters when editing and uploading photos. Researchers conducted the study on almost 43,000 photos posted by their subjects on their Instagram profiles. Ideally, Danforth says the best outcome of technology like this is getting those individuals the medical support that they need.

The study offers only "promising leads" into new mental health screening methods, it notes.

"This could help you get to a doctor sooner".

The team's results were published in the journal, EPJ Data Science.

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