Instagram Filters Can Hint at Depression


By Brianna Sachs

Someone’s Instagram feed can tell us if that person is depressed, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Vermont.

The study showed that people who are depressed typically had pictures on their feed that appeared more blue or gray and were darker. Study participants who showed depressed qualities were also much more likely use more filters as opposed to other study participants who weren’t depressed. Inkwell was the common filter used by those who were depressed, whereas non-depressed participants tended to favor the Valencia filter which lightens the tint in photos.

According to The Washington Post, Andrew Reece of Harvard and Chris Danforth of UVM collected survey information and 43,950 photos from 166 volunteers. These volunteers were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which pays people small stipends for repetitive online tasks.

Researchers called on the volunteers to engage in a comprehensive standardized clinical depression survey to asses depression levels respond to various demographic questions, and disclose their social media information. This included their Instagram usernames. Even more, participants were asked to self-analyze their history of depression diagnosis.

When it comes to social media, Instagram has a huge popularity among college students. According to Statista, Instagram is the third most popular digital platform among teenagers and young adults in the United States as of February 2016, behind Snapchat and Facebook.

Reece and Danforth observed photos and looked for quantitative measures of colors, brightness, and faces. In addition, they examined happiness, sadness, likability, and interestingness.

The finding in the Instagram study had to do with the connection between mood and color. The researchers found that increased hue, with decreased brightness and saturation, appeared to correlate with depression. Hue is the shade on a 360-degree color wheel where as  brightness is considered where a color lies between black and white. Saturation is known to photographers as “colorfulness,” or the intensity of color.

This is not the first study to look at how changes in mental health are reproduced in social media. Researchers from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine administered a similar study in which they looked at how circadian rhythm, normalized entropy, and location variance correlate with depression. Furthermore, a University of Sweden study found there was an apparent association between excessive cell phone use with stress, sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression for both young men and women.

Researchers also determined that depressed users were more likely than others to post photos with faces in them. Even so, these users had fewer faces in each photo. This could be explained by how those who are depressed favor small social settings.

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