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

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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.

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Big Questions
What Causes Sinkholes?
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a sinkhole opened up on the White House lawn—likely the result of excess rainfall on the "legitimate swamp" surrounding the storied building, a geologist told The New York Times. While the event had some suggesting we call for Buffy's help, sinkholes are pretty common. In the past few days alone, cavernous maws in the earth have appeared in Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Florida, home to more sinkholes than any other state.

Sinkholes have gulped down suburban homes, cars, and entire fields in the past. How does the ground just open up like that?

Sinkholes are a simple matter of cause and effect. Urban sinkholes may be directly traced to underground water main breaks or collapsed sewer pipelines, into which city sidewalks crumple in the absence of any structural support. In more rural areas, such catastrophes might be attributed to abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns that can't take the weight anymore. These types of sinkholes are heavily influenced by human action, but most sinkholes are unpredictable, inevitable natural occurrences.

Florida is so prone to sinkholes because it has the misfortune of being built upon a foundation of limestone—solid rock, but the kind that is easily dissolved by acidic rain or groundwater. The karst process, in which the mildly acidic water wears away at fractures in the limestone, leaves empty space where there used to be stone, and even the residue is washed away. Any loose soil, grass, or—for example—luxury condominiums perched atop the hole in the ground aren't left with much support. Just as a house built on a weak foundation is more likely to collapse, the same is true of the ground itself. Gravity eventually takes its toll, aided by natural erosion, and so the hole begins to sink.

About 10 percent of the world's landscape is composed of karst regions. Despite being common, sinkholes' unforeseeable nature serves as proof that the ground beneath our feet may not be as solid as we think.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

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DNA Analysis of Loch Ness Could Reveal the Lake's Hidden Creatures
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Stakeouts, sonar studies, and a 24-hour video feed have all been set up in an effort to confirm the existence of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Now, the Associated Press reports that an international team of scientists will use DNA analysis to learn what's really hiding in the depths of Scotland's most mysterious landmark.

The team, led by Neil Gemmell, who researches evolutionary genetics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, will collect 300 water samples from various locations and depths around the lake. The waters are filled with microscopic DNA fragments animals leave behind as they swim, mate, eat, poop, and die in the waters, and if Nessie is a resident, she's sure to leave bits of herself floating around as well.

After extracting the DNA from the organic material found in the water samples, the scientists plan to sequence it. The results will then be compared to the DNA profiles of known species. If there's evidence of an animal that's not normally found in the lake, or an entirely new species, the researchers will hopefully spot it.

Gemmell is a Nessie skeptic, and he says the point of the project isn't necessarily to discover new species. Rather, he wants to create a genetic profile of the lake while generating some buzz around the science behind it.

If the study goes according to plan, the database of Loch Ness's inhabitants should be complete by 2019. And though the results likely won't include a long-extinct plesiosaur, they may offer insights about other invasive species that now call the lake home.

[h/t AP]

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