Published: Tue, August 08, 2017
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Instagram photos reveal predictive markers of depression

Instagram photos reveal predictive markers of depression

"This points toward a new method for early screening of depression and other emerging mental illnesses". "Pixel analysis of the photos in our dataset revealed that depressed individuals in our sample tended to post photos that were, on average, bluer, darker, and grayer than those posted by healthy individuals", Danforth and Reece write in a blog post to accompany their new study. And not to scare you too much about the prospect of computers outsmarting humanity, but the tool was able to diagnose depression accurately 70 percent of the time-compared to just 42 percent for doctors.

Researchers from the University of Vermont and Harvard developed a computer algorithm that was able to identify individuals with signs of depression by the types of images they share on social media.

And using these factors, they were able to nearly double the likelihood of correctly diagnosing a patient with the technology, compared to a doctor in a consultation. As per the study, it was more likely for the people affected with depression to post images which included faces of people.

So while those diagnosed with depression may opt for Instagram filters like Inkwell, which drains the photo to a stark black-and-white, those in healthier spirits may prefer brighter, warmer filters like Valencia, according to the study.

On this premise, we used a face detection algorithm to analyze Instagram posts for the presence and number of human faces in each photograph.

When the researchers analyzed the almost 44,000 images, they found that posts from users who had a diagnosis of depression were likely to be bluer, grayer and darker than posts from users without the condition.

We were able to observe these differences reliably, even when only looking at depressed users' posts made prior to receiving a clinical diagnosis of depression.

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Depression can reveal itself in social media images in the same way sighs and slumped shoulders may betray sadness, a study suggests.

Depressed participants also posted pictures containing fewer faces either due to reduced social interaction or that the untested theory that depressed people take more self-portraits, said the researchers. They also tended to have more photos with a single person in them, while non-depressed people shared more group shots.

The team's results were published in the journal, EPJ Data Science.

"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", Danforth said.

'This could help you get to a doctor sooner.

Deeper ethical questions as well as privacy concerns do exist as the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning spreads into many fields of life.

"But it is a proof of concept of a new way to help people", Danforth said.

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