Instagram pictures can reveal a lot about mental health, study finds

Instagram pictures can reveal a lot about mental health, study finds

Can an analysis of colors provide vital clues about a person’s mental health? The answer may be in the affirmative as per findings of a new study listed in arXiv.org, Cornell University’s open access website for findings before they are published formally, on Aug.13, 2016.

In the study, the researchers created a computer algorithm to analyze Instagram posts of 166 individual users. The algorithm was designed to extract statistical information from 43,950 photos by analyzing their color and brightness, use of Instagram filters, number of faces in each photo and metadata including number of comments or likes.

The researchers asked participants if they had been diagnosed with clinical depression, as well as the original date of their diagnoses, wherever applicable. Around 70 percent of the participants were found  clinically depressed at the time of the study, while the remaining were not. Results of the study showed a high level of accuracy in identifying Instagram users who suffered from depression.

The study also required participants to rate, on a scale of 0 to 5, how interesting, happy, sad or likable they found other users’ photos. Of all the photos, the researchers shortlisted 100 of the most recent photographs for users not diagnosed with depression, and 100 of users with depression who posted before the diagnosis. A higher ranking of “sadness” was assigned to photos of participants who were depressed.

Colors, social interactions and mental state

The researchers found that those who were depressed were more inclined to post photos with increased hue, lower brightness and lower color saturation. Photos of such individuals were likely to be bluer, grayer and darker. Use of filters was not very prevalent in individuals with depression; however, when filters were used, the most favored one was Inkwell, which converts color images to black-and-white. In case of participants who were not depressed, the most popularly used filter was Valencia.

It was also observed that participants with depression posted a higher number of photos with faces; however, less faces per photo, which could imply less social interactivity. The researchers of the study – Andrew Reece, a psychology and computational science graduate student at Harvard University and Christopher M. Danforth, an assistant professor in the Mathematics Department of the University of Vermont College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences – mentioned that this may reflect the tendency of depressed people to limit their interactions within smaller social circles.

Computer algorithms just to aid traditional ways of diagnosis

The researchers have clarified that although initial findings are encouraging, there is still a long way to go. The findings are not suggestive of the fact that computer algorithms will replace traditional methods of diagnoses by psychiatrists or psychologists. Studies such as these can provide crucial leads in identifying people suffering from mental illnesses and who are in need of help.

Clinical diagnoses and computer-based diagnoses are not comparable. Doctors look at overall populations and not a restricted subset such as Instagram users. In addition, doctors do not separate people into two distinct groups – one with depression and one without – as has been done in the study.

According to the researchers, computer programs such as the one used in the study can help in early assessments of people suspected to be suffering from depression. It is often seen that a significant amount of time passes between the onset and start of treatment. A simple and a low-cost method can help in such cases. Computer programs also have the ability to analyze large volumes of data posted on social media which may provide vital information usually not available with doctors. Computer-aided research can supplement existing, traditional tools which are used by doctors.

Mental illnesses can be alleviated or treated if help is provided in a timely manner. If you or your loved one is suffering from a mental illness, seek help from the Florida Mental Health Helpline. If you are looking for the best mental health counselor in Florida, you can call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-846-5588. You can chat online with our experts for advice on the best options in mental disorder treatment in Florida.

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