How You Instagram Can Reveal Whether or Not You’re Depressed, Study Says

iStock
iStock

How you Instagram might reveal more about you than just what you did last weekend. One study found that certain Instagram photos can predict the markers of depression, as New York Magazine's Select All reports. And it's not the first study to link social media use and mental illness.

The study, in EPJ Data Science, looked at almost 44,000 posts from 166 people (71 of them depressed) using color analysis, metadata, and face detection software. (While less than 200 people isn’t a big enough number to really cement these findings, they at least analyzed a whole lot of brunch pics.) They found machine learning could successfully distinguish between the behavior of people diagnosed with depression and those with a clean bill of mental health by looking at the Instagram filter type of photos, the setting, whether or not there were people, color, brightness, and how many “likes” and comments it got. They also looked at how often people used the app and how often they posted.

The researchers’ Instagram model worked the majority of the time to correctly identify depression, even in posts made before the researchers diagnosed the person’s mental health status. Compare that to general practitioners' rates for correctly diagnosing depressed patients, which studies have found hover around 42 percent.

Depressed people tended to post darker photos, often using Instagram’s black-and-white Inkwell filter. They received more comments, but fewer likes on their posts. They tended to post photos of faces, but typically fewer faces than non-depressed users (social isolation is often linked to depression). By contrast, healthy people loved Valencia, which lightens images, and tended to get more likes.

Loving a black-and-white photo doesn't necessarily mean you're depressed. Maybe you’re just trying out your best Ansel Adams impression. But given the outsized role social media plays in modern life, it might be able to provide doctors with insights into patients' inner thoughts and feelings that they might not otherwise be privy to.

Other studies, too, have found that technology use can provide a window into people's souls, mental health and all. Research has found that unhappy people use their smartphones to cope with negative feelings, linking increased phone usage to anxiety and depression. A 2015 study found that smartphones could predict depression by tracking how often and where people moved.

In some cases, though, social media seems to play an active role in making people unhappy, rather than simply revealing their existing unhappiness. A 2017 study of 5000 people found that the more time people spent using Facebook, the worse their sense of well-being. (And that's even before you start talking about reading the news.) Other surveys have found that for teenagers, Instagram and Snapchat usage are associated with low self-esteem, bullying, and more.

But even if obsessively Instagram is making you unhappy in the first place, how you use social media could be an important factor for doctors to consider when evaluating mental health. It's hard to open up to people about depressive thoughts, especially if it's a medical professional you only see once a year. You might tell your doctor you feel fine, but be more honest about your inner darkness on Instagram—whether you realize it or not. So although you probably don’t want to hand over your social media history to your medical providers on a regular basis, it could provide a useful way to screen patients who aren't able to fully convey their mental health issues.

A Team of Cigarette Butt-Collecting Birds Are Keeping a French Theme Park Litter-Free

iStock
iStock

The six rooks pecking at litter within the Puy du Fou theme park in Les Epesses, France, aren't unwelcome pests: They're part of the staff. As AFP reports, the trained birds have been dispatched to clean up garbage and cigarettes butts from the park grounds.

Rooks are a member of the corvid family, a group of intelligent birds that also includes ravens and crows. At Puy du Fou, an educational amusement park with attractions inspired by various periods from French history, the rooks will flit around park, pick up any bits of litter that haven't been properly disposed of, and deliver them to a receptacle in exchange for a treat. At least that's how the system is set up to work: The full team of six rooks has only been on the job since August 13.

Employing birds as trash collectors may seem far-fetched, but the experiment has precedent. The Dutch startup Crowded Cities recently started training crows to gather cigarette butts using a vending machine-like device. Once the crows were taught to associate the rig with free peanuts, the machine was tweaked so that it only dispensed food when the crow nudged a cigarette butt resting on a ledge into the receptacle. The cigarette butts were eventually removed, and the birds figured out that they had to find the litter in the wild if they wanted to continue receiving their snacks.

Crowded Cities had planned to conduct more research on the method's effectiveness, as well as the potentially harmful effects of tobacco on crows, before bringing their vending machines to public spaces. Puy du Fou, meanwhile, has become one of the first—if not the first—businesses to fully implement the strategy on a major scale.

Even if it doesn't prove to be practical, Puy du Fou president Nicolas de Villiers told AFP that cleaning up the park is only part of the goal. He also hopes the birds will demonstrate that "nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment."

[h/t AFP]

Online Daters Tend to Be Interested in Partners 25 Percent More Desirable Than They Are

iStock
iStock

Online dating may not bring out the best in people (as anyone who’s been ghosted can attest) but it does bring out our optimistic side. A new study suggests that people tend to reach out to fellow online daters who are approximately 25 percent more attractive than they are, according to The Washington Post.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, looked at online dating messaging behavior from heterosexual men and women in four different U.S. cities. Researchers analyzed how many messages people sent and received in January 2014, how long those messages were, and how many messages went unanswered.

They examined daters in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and Boston, including age, ethnicity, and education of the users in their analysis, but kept the profiles anonymous and did not read the messages themselves. (The researchers don’t name the particular site they got their data from, merely describing it as a “popular, free online dating service.” From the details, it sounds a lot like OkCupid or a very similar site: one that allows users to answer open-ended essay questions and list attributes like their religion and body type on their profiles.)

To quantify how desirable a person was, the researchers looked at the hard numbers—how many messages someone received, and how the senders themselves ranked on the desirability scale.

Both men and women tend to aim high, messaging someone more desirable than themselves by about 25 percent, on average. For the most part, users didn’t contact people who ranked lower than themselves on the desirability scale. When they did contact people who were hotter, daters tended to write much longer messages than they did when they contacted someone on their own level, so to speak—sometimes up to twice as long. Women tended to use more "positive" words (like "good" and "happy") when they were writing to hotter dudes, while men actually used fewer positive words when talking to hotter ladies. Men in Seattle sent the longest messages, perhaps because of the city’s makeup—in some populations, there are twice as many men there as women, so heterosexual men face a lot of competition. Although wordy messages in Seattle did have a slightly higher response rate, in other cities, the extra time spent typing out missives didn’t pay off. Given that those messages weren’t any likelier to get a response than a short note, the researchers write that the “effort put into writing longer or more positive messages may be wasted.”

The data also showed how desirability in online dating can be influenced by attributes like age, education level, and ethnicity. For instance, at least as far as averages go, older men tended to be viewed as more desirable than younger men until they hit 50. Women’s scores peaked when they were 18 years old (the youngest age when you can join the site) and decreased until age 60.

Even if you aren’t in the pool of the most attractive users, sometimes, aiming high can pay off. “Even though the response rate is low, our analysis shows that 21 percent of people who engage in this aspirational behavior do get replies from a mate who is out of their league, so perseverance pays off,” co-author Elizabeth Bruch explained in a press release.

[h/t The Washington Post]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios