Instagram photos can indicate whether someone is depressed

Study Computers Analyzing Social Media Can Find Signs of Depression

As Instagram is used to share personal experiences, it is reasonable to infer that posted photos with people in them may capture aspects of a user's social life.

They did not take into consideration captions or comments, however, by examining the pixel of each picture, they were able to find out that pictures of a darker, bluer or grayer color were signs of depression. Depressed people, for example, were more likely to post photos with darker, grey colors. But when individuals with a depression diagnosis did use filters, many preferred to filter all the color out of their posts, opting for black-and-white filters such as "Inkwell".

Prof Danforth and United States colleague Andrew Reece from Harvard University wrote in a blog post accompanying the study: "Pixel analysis of the photos in our dataset revealed that depressed individuals in our sample tended to post photos that were, on average, bluer, darker, and greyer than those posted by healthy individuals".

The researchers were then able to predict which photos showed signs of depression using the study mode. These results held even when the analysis was restricted to posts made before depressed individuals were first diagnosed.

"It's a proof of concept and for the particular individuals we studied, this set of predictors works for them". For starters, the sample size was small and the volunteers had certain qualities in common: They were willing to submit surveys on their mental health and were relatively active on social media. "Whether or not it would translate to average person's Instagram feed, we don't know", Professor Danforth said.

On the basis of images posted, the computer was in several cases able to reach a diagnosis earlier than the date at which individuals consulted and were diagnosed by a doctor.

The study offers only "promising leads" into new mental health screening methods, it notes. Those with depression tend to withdraw from social groups, so it makes sense that those participants in the study had fewer people in their photos.

Volunteers rated the photos based on how interesting, likeable, happy and sad each photo seemed on a scale of 0 to 5, according to the study.

Almost 300 million people worldwide are affected by depression.

In addition, much more research is needed before this type of technology could be used to diagnose mental health conditions. Especially when they may be unaware about what's going on or hesitant to reach out on their own.

"We have a lot of thinking to do about the morality of machines", he said.

"Imagine an app you can install on your phone that pings your doctor for a check-up when your behavior changes for the worse, potentially before you even realize there is a problem".

Social media isn't going anywhere, so incorporating it into important health research is a win for everyone.

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