Researchers have developed an algorithm designed to identify depressed individuals through their Instagram photos.
(CCM) — Your Instagram account says a lot about your activities, food, interests, and social group, but could it also be indicative of your current state of mental health? A new study points to yes. According to research recently published in the Cornell University Library by professors Andrew Reece of Harvard University and Chris Danforth of the University of Vermont in Burlington, photo colors and filters posted to Instagram correlate strongly to a user's mental health state. To conduct the study, the research team applied an algorithm to evaluate 43,950 images using objective indicators, such as photo color, hue, contrast, and exposition, as well as the number of faces shown in each photo to measure the state of a user's psychological health. They found that depressed individuals were more likely to utilize filters that are bluer, grayer, and darker, and that images posted by depressed individuals also accumulated fewer human ratings — such as likes, comments, and tags — than those posted by mentally healthy users. When applied, the algorithm had a 70% success rate in identifying depressed individuals.
While the results do suggest a strong correlation between individual psychology and one's use of certain filters, the social portion of the study remains uncertain. "It may be that the abundance of low-face-count photos posted by depressed users are, in fact, self-portraits," the researchers noted. Although the study leaves some questions unanswered, Reece and Danforth hope that the awareness generated by these warning signs will encourage users to take action if they believe someone to be at-risk. Instagram already has measures in place to combat offensive online activity — it will be interesting to see how and if the platform will utilize the researchers' algorithm to facilitate early intervention where there are mental health red flags.
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