New research suggests the pictures that users of Instagram choose to post could reveal or even predict depression.
University of Vermont mathematician Chris Danforth and Harvard University PhD candidate Andrew Reece used analytical computer models to examine tens of thousands of photos posted on Instagram feeds from 166 volunteers. About half of those people identified as having clinical depression diagnoses, the pair's research paper said.
The data scientists discovered the depressed participants tended to have fewer group shots in their feeds, with the analytical tools detecting more faces in the pictures posted by the healthier participants. The colors in depressed Instagram users' posts also tended to be more somber, according to the study.
The photos from depressed people may reflect more limited social interactions and bleaker world views, Danforth said.
"And those markers were visible before they received their diagnosis," Danforth told necn in an interview Wednesday on the University of Vermont campus.
Danforth noted that depressed Instagrammers in the study were less likely to apply filters to alter the hues of their photos than healthy participants. However, when depressed users did use filters, the one they most commonly applied would turn photos black and white.
Danforth identified that filter as Inkwell, which makes photos darker; devoid of color. On the other hand, healthier people in the study much more commonly used a filter known as Valencia, Danforth said. That filter makes photos lighter and brighter.
So you're probably wondering, what's the point of all this?
Danforth told necn the research suggests that one day, technology could offer new avenues for early detection of mental illness.
"Ten years from now, it may be the case that people in the medical field will use these types of instruments to try and complement the more traditional techniques they use to diagnose patients," Danforth explained.
Instagrammer Casi Madsen was taking pictures of a latte Wednesday at her employer, Speeder & Earl's, a coffee hotspot on Pine Street in Burlington.
"I think it's one of the most authentic platforms out there," Madsen said of Instagram. "I just think it's nice that you can see everybody's character that they portray, and you can see how their year is changing, like through the colors of the seasons their photos were taken in."
Madsen said Instagram is a good way to both promote the business, and to view other pictures from friends, artists, and companies around the world. Her personal feed and the Speeder & Earl's account she contributes to utilize bright, upbeat colors and subject matters.
Danforth said there's good reason for more study of social media as a health screening tool.
You can access Danforth and Reece's early findings, which are still awaiting peer review, here: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1608/1608.03282.pdf