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Worried someone you love is depressed? Check their Instagram feed

Study of 166 Instagram users found that depressed users tended to post more images in darker hues and prefer a black-and-white filter.

A new study of 166 Instagram users found that those with a diagnosis of clinical depression tended to post more images in darker hues, prefer a black-and-white filter and post more pictures of faces, but place fewer faces in individual photos, suggesting a preference for one-on-one or smaller group encounters rather than large get-togethers.

A researcher from Harvard University and a researcher from the University of Vermont ran the study and posted their findings on arXiv, a repository of scientific papers run by Cornell University. When conducting the study, researchers asked subjects whether they had been diagnosed with clinical depression, then paired that information with their Instagram feeds, with the subjects’ permission.

The researchers then ran 70% of their data through an algorithm so it could pick up any patterns that might exist in depressed users’ photos, NPR reported.

After finding the researchers’ suspected themes in depressed users’ photos—their photos were more often in darker, bluer and grayer hues than their mentally healthy peers’ photos, among other differences—researchers then removed the depression diagnosis information from the remaining 30% of the photos and had their computer program categorize which users had depression.

The program correctly “diagnosed” depression 54% of the time, according to NPR.

The researchers say these findings suggest the promise of new ways to screen for and detect mental illness earlier.

“It’s unclear how that would work,” the Washington Post reported. “Would you one day give your clinician your Instagram username, or would bots scan millions of Instagram feeds and somehow report back to you that you might be depressed?”

While the results of this study are fascinating, readers should note that the study is not peer-reviewed and that the depression diagnoses were self-reported, so the study should be taken with a grain of salt.

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