While studies have shown that Instagram might be making you miserable, new research suggests that the way you use the app could provide clues to how you’re feeling IRL.
Researchers at the University of Vermont developed a computer algorithm which can detect depressed users based on their Instagram posts.
The study, published Tuesday in the journal EPJ Data Science, analyzed nearly 44,000 Instagram photos from 166 volunteers, who also shared their mental health history. (Roughly half of participants had reportedly suffered from clinical depression within the past three years).
Co-authors Chris Danforth, a University of Vermont professor of mathematics and statistics, and Andrew Reece, a Harvard University graduate student in psychology, found that the Instagram photos of participants suffering from depression were “on average, bluer, darker and grayer than those posted by healthy individuals." The black-and-white Inkwell was the most popular filter, although, depressed 'grammers were found to be less likely to use a filter at all. Conversely, the subjects with no reported history of depression posted much warmer, brighter photos, opting for filters like Valencia.
Among the findings: depressed individuals posted with a greater frequency and received more comments on their posts (but fewer likes), and also were more likely to post photos of faces, yet had a "lower average face-count per post" compared to the healthy participants.
As another component of the study, Danforth and Reece had a different set of volunteers identify whether the Instagram posts were made by depressed or healthy individuals. While the majority guessed correctly, the computer model analysis proved more accurate.
"This points toward a new method for early screening of depression and other emerging mental illnesses," Danforth said in a statement. "This algorithm can sometimes detect depression before a clinical diagnosis is made."
He clarifies that it’s “not yet a diagnostic test, not by a long shot.” Clearly, if you think you might be suffering from depression, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician to talk about mental health treatment options. But in the meantime, friends and family can look to your Instagram feed as a cry for help.