Study Links Black and White Instagram Photos to Depression


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 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]

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at

Netherlands Officials Want to Pay Residents to Bike to Work

Thinking about relocating to the Netherlands? You might also want to bring a bike. Government officials are looking to compensate residents for helping solve their traffic congestion problem and they want businesses to pay residents to bike to work, as The Independent reports.

Owing to automobile logjams on roadways that keep drivers stuck in their cars and cost the economy billions of euros annually, Dutch deputy infrastructure minister Stientje van Veldhoven recently told media that she's endorsing a program that would pay employees 19 cents for every kilometer (0.6 miles) they bike to work.

That doesn't sound like very much, but perhaps citizens who need to trek several miles each way would appreciate the cumulative boost in their weekly paychecks. For employers, the benefit would be a healthier workforce that might take fewer sick days and reduce parking needs.

Veldhoven says she also plans on designing a program that would assist employers in supplying workers with bicycles. The goal is to have 200,000 people opting for manual transportation over cars. If the program proceeds, it might find a receptive population. The Netherlands is already home to 22.5 million bikes, more than the 17.1 million people living there. In Amsterdam, a quarter of residents bike to work.

There's no timeline for implementing the pay-to-bike plan, but early trial studies indicate that the expense might not have to be a long-term prospect. Study subjects continued to bike to work even after the financial rewards stopped.

[h/t The Independent]

New Health-Monitoring Litter Box Could Save You a Trip to the Vet

Unsure if your cat is sick or just acting aloof per usual? A “smart toilet” for your fur baby could help you decide whether a trip to the vet is really necessary.

Enter the Pet Care Monitor: More than a litter box, the receptacle is designed to analyze cat urine for health issues, The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo reports. Created by the Japan-based Sharp Corporation—better known for consumer electronics such as TVs, mobile phones, and the world's first LCD calculator—the product will be available for purchase on the company’s website starting July 30 (although shipping limitations may apply).

Sensors embedded in the monitor can measure your cat’s weight and urine volume, as well as the frequency and duration of toilet trips. That information is then analyzed by an AI program that compares it to data gleaned from a joint study between Sharp Corp and Tottori University in Japan. If there are any red flags, a report will be sent directly to your smartphone via an application called Cocoro Pet. The monitor could be especially useful for keeping an eye on cats with a history of kidney and urinary tract problems.

If you have several cats, the company offers sensors to identify each pet, allowing separate data sets to be collected and analyzed. (Each smart litter box can record the data of up to three cats.)

The Pet Care Monitor costs about $225, and there’s an additional monthly fee of roughly $3 for the service. Sharp Corporation says it will continue developing health products for pets, and it has already created a leg sensor that can tell if a dog is nervous by measuring its heart and respiratory rates.

[h/t The Asahi Shimbun]


More from mental floss studios