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Study Links Black and White Instagram Photos to Depression

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Your Instagram habits reveal more than just your favorite brunch spots. According to new research reported by NPR, users experiencing depression are more likely to filter their photos in black and white.

For their study, which was posted to arXiv.org earlier this month [PDF], researchers from Harvard University and the University of Vermont analyzed 43,950 photos from 166 Instagram accounts. Participants were asked to state whether or not they were diagnosed with clinical depression before the study. After breaking down photos by the number of faces, filters, color and brightness, and the amount of comments and likes, researchers found that certain trends could be traced back to people with depression.

While subjects with the condition were less likely to use any filter to begin with, one was particularly popular when they did. The study showed that Inkwell, which makes a photo black and white, was disproportionately preferred by depressed participants. Healthy participants, on the other hand, favored the Valencia filter which makes photos lighter.

The data also revealed that photos with faces were posted more frequently by depressed users, but with fewer faces per photo. And even though Instagram pictures from users with depression garnered more comments, they tended to receive fewer likes.

Using this information, researchers plugged Instagram photos into a computer algorithm to see how good it was at spotting depression. When given data from 100 users, it correctly identified individuals with the mental illness 70 percent of the time.

The study has yet to be peer-reviewed, and while Instagram filters may seem like an odd tool for making medical diagnoses, the authors point out that it may not be any worse than our current methods. They write:

“Our model showed considerable improvement over the ability of unassisted general practitioners to correctly diagnose depression. On average, more than half of general practitioners’ depression diagnoses were false positives[…]Given that mental health services are unavailable or underfunded in many countries, this computational approach, requiring only patients’ digital consent to share their social media histories, may open avenues to care which are currently difficult or impossible to provide.”

Instagram is just one tech habit that could potentially be used to diagnose mental illness. A study published in 2015 found that frequent phone usage may also be an indicator of depression.

[h/t NPR]

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The Surprising Link Between Language and Depression
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Skim through the poems of Sylvia Plath, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, or posts on an internet forum dedicated to depression, and you'll probably start to see some commonalities. That's because there's a particular way that people with clinical depression communicate, whether they're speaking or writing, and psychologists believe they now understand the link between the two.

According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there are certain "markers" in a person's parlance that may point to symptoms of clinical depression. Researchers used automated text analysis methods to comb through large quantities of posts in 63 internet forums with more than 6400 members, searching for certain words and phrases. They also noted average sentence length, grammatical patterns, and other factors.

What researchers found was that a person's use (or overuse) of first-person pronouns can provide some insight into the state of their mental health. People with clinical depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, such as "I" and "me," and fewer third-person pronouns, like "they," "he," or "she." As Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and the head of the study, writes in a post for IFL Science:

"This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words."

What remains unclear, though, is whether people who are more focused on themselves tend to depression, or if depression turns a person's focus on themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression also use more negative descriptors, like "lonely" and "miserable."

But, Al-Mosaiwi notes, it's hardly the most important clue when using language to assess clinical depression. Far better indicators, he says, are the presence of "absolutist words" in a person's speech or writing, such as "always," "constantly," and "completely." When overused, they tend to indicate that someone has a "black-and-white view of the world," Al-Mosaiwi says. An analysis of posts on different internet forums found that absolutist words were 50 percent more prevalent on anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent more prevalent on suicidal ideation forums.

Researchers hope these types of classifications, supported by computerized methods, will prove more and more beneficial in a clinical setting.

[h/t IFL Science]

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Health
Just 5 Alcoholic Drinks a Week Could Shorten Your Lifespan
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Wine lovers were elated when a scientific study last year suggested that drinking a glass of wine a day could help them live longer. Now a new study, published in The Lancet, finds that having more than 100 grams of alcohol a week (the amount in about five glasses of wine or pints of beer) could be detrimental to your health.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Heart Foundation studied the health data of nearly 600,000 drinkers in 19 countries and found that five to 10 alcoholic drinks a week (yes, red wine included) could shave six months off the life of a 40-year-old.

The penalty is even more severe for those who have 10 to 15 drinks a week (shortening a person’s life by one to two years), and those who imbibe more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives. In other words, your lifespan could be shortened by half an hour for every drink over the daily recommended limit, according to The Guardian, making it just as risky as smoking.

"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years' lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life," David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge who was not involved with the study, tells The Guardian. "This works out at about an hour per day. So it's as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette."

[h/t The Guardian]

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