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08 August 2017, 06:10 | Melissa Porter
Image Shutterstock KatePh
Depression can reveal itself in social media images in the same way sighs and slumped shoulders may betray sadness, a study suggests. It correctly identified people with depression 70 percent of the time, compared to general-practice doctors who had successful diagnoses about 40 percent of the time.
In comparison, Global Positioning System have an average success rate for correctly diagnosing depression of 42%.
The colors in the photographs we post on Instagram may be indicative of what mood we're in, according to a new study.
"This points toward a new method for early screening of depression and other emerging mental illnesses".
"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".
We asked people to share their Instagram posting histories with us, along with details about their mental health history.
A total of 43,950 photos were collected from 166 participants, around half of whom reported suffering from clinical depression in the last three years. Among healthy users, we observed that the most popular filter was Valencia, which gives photos a warmer, brighter feel.
In other words, people suffering from depression were more likely to favor a filter that literally drained all the color out of the images they wanted to share.
Depressed users also posted more photos with faces but had fewer people in their photos. The research team built a tool that analyzed the posts and identified depression through markers determined in previous research, such as the tendency of depressed people to prefer grayer, darker colors, and to show less evidence of social activity (which the researchers thought might be evidenced by the absence of faces in posted images). According to them, it either corresponds to other research associating depression to reduced social interaction or, it might be indicate that depressed people take many self-portraits.
"This "sad-selfie" hypothesis remains untested", they wrote.
Another key finding was that the depressed volunteers were more likely to post photos with faces - but these photos had fewer faces on average than the healthy people's Instagram feeds - a sign that perhaps depressed users interact with fewer people. Yet, those volunteers were not able to complete the task as efficiently as the statistical computer model; the rating done by humans lacked much correlation with the features of the photos that were identified by the computer.
The scientists claim that artificial intelligence performed better, with Danforth saying: "Obviously you know your friends better than a computer". "But you might not, as a person casually flipping through Instagram, be as good at detecting depression as you think".
Depression also made people less likely to use filters in their posts.
However, Prof Danforth believes the technology raises ethical and moral questions to do with privacy.
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