Photograph by Hannah Whitaker
Researchers have discovered two new markers of depression – and they’re things we reveal on social media every day! Think you or someone you know might be depressed?
According to MIT Technology Review, your mental health is clearly reflected in the images you choose to post on social media. In fact, researchers have actually trained a machine to spot depression on Instagram!
US researchers gained access to the Instagram posts of 170 people, of whom around 70 were clinically depressed. From an Insta database of over 40 000 photographs, for each healthy user, the researchers chose the 100 most recent photographs to be rated. For depressed individuals, they chose the 100 pics posted before their diagnosis. Raters were then asked to judge how interesting, likeable, happy and sad each photo seemed on a scale of 0 to 5. The researchers also evaluated the photographs using objective measures such as the average hue, colour saturation, contrast etc. They counted the number of faces in each image using face detection software (on the assumption that faces are a proxy for someone’s level of social activity). And they assessed the Instagram community’s reaction to each image by counting likes and comments. With this data, they used a machine-learning algorithm to spot correlations between depression and image properties.
You’re More Likely To Be Depressed If…
1. You use darker filters
It’s well known that we associate darker, greyer colours with darker, greyer moods (versus, say, a sunny bright yellow). And now research confirms that those suffering from depression prefer using darker, bluer, greyer colours.
Of Instagram’s atmospheric filters, depressed people had a clear fave. “When depressed participants did employ filters, they most disproportionately favoured the ‘Inkwell’ filter, which converts colour photos to black-and-white images,” say researchers Andrew Reece and Chris Danforth. And healthy peeps? Valencia, which lightens photographs.
2. You receive fewer likes!?
The researchers also found that depressed individuals’ pics receive fewer likes than those posted by healthy individuals…
3. You post pics with fewer faces
Depressed people were more likely to post photos with faces, but these pics tended to have fewer faces per photo.
Reece and Danforth note that depressed people tend to use more self-focused language, and that this may extend to images too. “If so, it may be that the abundance of low-face-count photos posted by depressed users are, in fact, self-portraits,” say the researchers, but the “sad selfie” hypothesis remains untested.
The link between colours used in Insta photos and mental health is so strong that the researchers suggest it could be used for early detection of mental illness.
They even upped the ante by setting the algorithm lose on images posted by 100 individuals and found that it correctly identified 70 percent of those who were depressed – better than your average GP’s performance!
“These findings support the notion that major changes in individual psychology are transmitted in social-media use and can be identified via computational methods,” say Reece and Danforth. We’re all for earlier, more accurate detection, no matter the method!