When you’re blue, so are your Instagram photos. This is the conclusion of a recent study that searched Instagram posts for identifiable patterns of individuals clinically diagnosed with depression.
This is not the first time scientists have conducted studies on Instagram or social media in general. This is the first time, however, that the focus of a study is not on the effects of Instagram and social media on mental health but how we can use platforms like Instagram to spot signs of mental disorders in people.
According to the study, blue, gray, and dark colors are suggestive of depression. Can you feel the difference?
Image credit: EPJ Data Science
In 2013, the marketing company Curalate analyzed over eight million Instagram posts and concluded that photos with more blues attract more likes. So, if you are using blues on Instagram only as a marketing strategy to gain more likes on your posts, and you don’t mind people perhaps mistaking you or your brand as depressive, you can continue using filters that add blue hues on your images.
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So, on Instagram, posts with dark filters like Inkwell, it seems, may suggest you’re suffering from depression, while photos with bright filters like Valencia hint at a happier disposition.
Valencia = happy
These are the findings from the study, first published by EPJ Data Science in August 2017. Led by Andrew Reece and Christopher Danforth of Harvard University and the University of Vermont respectively, the study analyzed 43,950 Instagram posts from 166 individuals, about half of whom had been suffering from depression for the last three years.
The results showed that photos posted by depressed individuals tended to be bluer, darker, and grayer compared to photos posted by healthy individuals. Posts of depressed individuals also got fewer likes, although interestingly they received more comments. They tended to post more pictures with faces but the face count per photo was on the low side. In other words, more selfies and pictures with smaller groups.
The study also revealed that the depressive signals were present in the posts of depressed individuals even before their diagnosis, which could open doors of opportunity for early detection and intervention. By studying a person’s Instagram posts you can gain real insight into their mind, perhaps learning things about them before they even know themselves.
The Instagram posts of 100 accounts were analyzed using machine learning tools to test how accurately the computer can identify people with depression. The algorithm correctly identified posts of mentally depressed individuals 70% of the time.
The researchers compared their findings with the results of a diagnostic accuracy study and confirmed that general practitioners were more likely than not to misdiagnose healthy subjects as depressed.
Reece and Danforth acknowledged that further studies are needed but that this process could clearly be used to aid in the process of diagnosis.
The internet was also at the core of another recent clinical study that showed how an online metabolic calculator can predict heart diseases better than traditional diagnosis.
Image credit: UF Health
Indeed, the value of the internet and social media, in particular, is growing not just in business but also in the health and medical fields.
So, if Instagram can really predict the mental state of users, at least in some cases surely we can use computer algorithms not to replace the diagnoses of real doctors, but to assist these human professionals in providing help quickly to those who are in need of it. Rather than human or computer alone, a combined approach will probably prove to be most effective, at least for now.
Let’s face it, computers can look at millions of pieces of information and make sense of them in a way that doctors cannot. They can provide information that psychiatrists, too, won’t be able to get from typical interactions with patients.
It’s true that computers cannot detect the subtleties in human emotions that a trained doctor can. Computer algorithms, however, can empower clinicians and help them make better, more informed decisions. In fact, they can also hold off personal biases or provide valid reasons for further testing when results are contradictory.
Overall the advantages are real, especially when you look at it from the perspective of depressed individuals who desperately need help — and fast.
But a computer algorithm might be able to notice. The dark color seems appropriate here, don’t they?
Image credit: Defying Shadows
Using Instagram to share pictures is fun, but now it can also be useful for getting help to depressed people and the clinical psychology community.
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Instagram may be the supposed happiest place on the internet, but that doesn’t mean everyone on it is as happy as they want people to think. The study mentioned above and others don’t just prove that alone. They’ve also given professionals a way to identify people who are feeling depressed and who may need immediate help, or those who may be in the early stages.
More studies are needed, but what the results suggest can have a strong impact on the worlds of both social media and medical psychology.
The use of computer algorithms in clinical diagnosis can greatly help mental health professionals in their work. They can help clinicians diagnose depression in people earlier than usual and then provide immediate intervention because of it, or find people who were missed by traditional methods.
It may be a long while before health professionals actually become comfortable with the idea of using something as “unscientific” as Instagram in their diagnosis. The foundation, however, has been laid and the finishing touches will come, maybe not tomorrow but certainly in the coming future.
Date: September 14, 2017 / Categories: Interesting, / Author: Chell