The colors and the types of images you use for pictures you post on social media are indicative of what mood you’re in, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Vermont and Harvard developed a computer algorithm that was able to identify people with signs of depression by the color and types of images they share on Instagram. The computer’s analysis in the study was 70% more effective than the 42% success rate of general-practice doctors diagnosing depression in-person.
According to the study, people who are feeling blue, or are experiencing depression or another form of mental illness, their photos turn bluer too. The scale of colors go for more gray and dark as well, with fewer faces shown.
In other words, just like people can signal their sadness by body language and behavior — think deep sighs and slumped shoulders — depression reveals itself in social media images.
Chris Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont who co-led the new study with Andrew Reece of Harvard University said: “This algorithm can sometimes detect depression before a clinical diagnosis is made.”
The study was included 166 participants with collection of 43,950 photos, half of whom reported being clinically depressed in the last three years.
Using insights from well-established psychology research about healty people’s preferences for brightness, color, and shading the team analyzed these photos.
“Pixel analysis revealed that depressed people tended to post photos that were, on average, bluer, darker, and grayer than those posted by healthy people,” Danforth and Reese write in a blog post to accompany their new study.
They also found that healthy people chose Instagram filters that gave their photos a warmer brighter tone, like Valencia. Among depressed people the most popular filter was Inkwell, making the photo black-and-white.
The number of faces in pictures also turned out to signal depression. Depressed people were more likely than healthy people to post photos with fewer faces on average than the healthy people’s Instagram feeds.
“Fewer faces may be an oblique indicator that depressed users interact in smaller settings,” Danforth and Reece note, while other research linking depression to reduced social interaction it also could be that depressed people take more photos of only themselves.