Instagram and Mental Health

It’s an enormously popular online photo and video sharing service….one of the world’s top social networking platforms. But a new study suggests that Instagram may also be a good indicator of someone’s mental health.

From National Public Radio (NPR):

Computer programs are getting pretty good at discovering health information by studying heaps of social media data.

A computer script analyzed galleries of photos posted to Instagram and accurately predicted if the users had depression, according to a study posted this month to the public online repository

Researchers at Harvard and the University of Vermont analyzed the posts of 166 Instagram users…more than 40,000 photos in all. They also asked the subjects whether they had ever been diagnosed with clinical depression. According to Fortune Magazine, “The researchers then analyzed their Instagram photos by looking at colors, brightness, and faces. Those who were depressed tended to post photos with increased hue, decreased brightness, and decreased color saturation. Overall, their photos were “bluer, grayer, and darker.” They also tended to post more frequently and use more Instagram filters, the most popular one for depressed participants being Inkwell, which turns a photo black and white. The most popular filter for volunteers who weren’t depressed was Valencia.” added, “Moreover, depressed participants posted more photos with faces, but the number of people in each photo was lower. The researchers are still considering what this could mean, but they believe it may indicate they have smaller social circles.”

And weighed in with this – “When tested with a new group of individuals, the researchers reported that it correctly identified 70% of those with depression. That’s better than most general practice doctors can do.”

However, Wired Magazine pointed out that it might be a bit premature to jump to any mental health conclusions based on someone’s Instagram photos.

Even if there’s a real association between filters and feelings, the paper’s data hasn’t been vetted by other scientists—so it’s still a bit premature to act like a keyboard psychiatrist whenever you see a friend’s selfie recreating Eric Draven’s rooftop guitar solo from The Crow.

Let us know what you think about the study and its findings. Do you believe this is something that could perhaps be harnessed as an early screening for depression or is it simply an interesting story with limited ‘real world’ potential? Generating fresh dialogue around the health issues making headlines is part of our long-term goal to one day make Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!


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