One of the weird things about color is that we connect it to emotions. We tend to think that darker colors lead to a more negative mood and bolder, brighter ones lead to positive moods. Researchers have found that to be the truth - people who have depression prefer dark colors.
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They have also found that it might be possible to diagnose depression by analyzing the photos that people post on social media site - especially Instagram. The question is, how reliable could the method be?
Andrew Reece of Harvard University and Chris Danforth of the University of Vermont in Burlington have found that there is a correlation between the colors in photos on Instagram and an individual's mental health. In fact, the pair says that the link is so strong that they could use it for early detection of mental illness.
They looked at the Instagram accounts of 500 workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk. They asked them to complete a set of questionnaires which included the standard clinical depression survey.
Of those surveyed, 170 Turkers agreed to the study and 70 were found to be clinically depressed. The survey asked various questions about the condition, such as when they were diagnosed.
The downloads from those participants resulted in a database of over 40,000 photographs to be analyzed. For each healthy user, 100 of the most recent photographs were rated. For depressed individuals, they chose the 100 posts before they were diagnosed.
The raters, who were independently sourced, judge the photos on how interesting, likable, happy, and sad each photo seemed on a scale of 0 to 5.
They also evaluated the photos using some objective measures like average hue, color saturation, contrast, and so on. This helped to determine how vivid a photo was or whether it was gray or faded.
Other measures they took included the number of faces in each photo and community action to see how much social activity a person had.
Researchers found that depressed individuals tend to post images that are darker, grayer, bluer, and have fewer likes than those posted by healthy people.
Instagram has a wide range of filters that change the atmosphere of the photo. Those with depression have a clear favorite. “When depressed participants did employ filters, they most disproportionately favored the ‘Inkwell’ filter, which converts color photographs to black-and-white images,” say Reece and Danforth in their paper.
Healthy individuals chose Valencia, a filter that lightens photos.
People with depression were likely to post photos with faces, but there were fewer faces in those photos.
Reece and Danforth think that depressed people show themselves in photos more often just like they are more likely to use self-focused language.
“If so, it may be that the abundance of low-face-count photos posted by depressed users are, in fact, self-portraits,” say the researchers, although they add that this “sad selfie” hypothesis remains untested.
Another interesting question is whether or not the algorithm can identify depressed people using the images they post.
“These findings support the notion that major changes in individual psychology are transmitted in social-media use, and can be identified via computational methods,” say Reece and Danforth.
The hope is that if depression can be found earlier, treatment will be easier.