The Way You Use Instagram Can Show if You're Depressed

Francis Osborne
August 9, 2017

"General practitioners were able to correctly rule out depression in non-depressed patients 81 per cent of the time, but only diagnosed depressed patients correctly 42 per cent of the time", the study reads. Additionally, the computer analysis revealed that those with depression posted photos more often than those who were not depressed.

We were able to observe these differences reliably, even when only looking at depressed users' posts made prior to receiving a clinical diagnosis of depression.

In addition to hue and level of color in the photos, the results showed depressed participants were more likely to post photos with faces in them but on average they had fewer faces in the photos they posted.

Depression is also characterized by reduced or avoidant social engagement.

Researchers at the University of Vermont developed a computer algorithm which can detect depressed users based on their Instagram posts. Those experiencing some sort of depression tended to opt for darker colors in their Instagram photos, whereas those who weren't gravitated toward more vivid colors.

Prof Danforth and U.S. 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 pics will tend to be darker, greyer and, well, "bluer", according to scientists.

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The colors in the photographs we post on Instagram may be indicative of what mood we're in, according to a new study.

They analysed around 44,000 photos and used findings from well-established psychology research to look for clues in Instagram images that could reveal the user's state of mind.

Danforth said in a statement that while we tend to know our friends better than a computer could, "you might not, as a person casually flipping through Instagram, be as good at detecting depression as you think".

The study, published Tuesday in the journal EPJ Data Science, analyzed almost 44,000 Instagram photos from 166 volunteers, who also shared their mental health history. Though more research is still needed, Danforth says this aspect is particularly encouraging. Even so, the possibility that social media analytics may offer a means of getting help faster to people in need is important, and should be explored further.

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

Dr Christopher Danforth, study co-author said: "With an increasing share of our social interactions happening online, the potential for algorithmic identification of early-warning signs for a host of mental and physical illnesses is enormous".

"This study is not yet a diagnostic test, not by a long shot", he said.

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