The effect of social media on our mental health has been discussed extensively in recent years — but what's rarely examined is how our mental state is expressed in the way we present ourselves online.
A new study, as reported by the New York Times, examined everything from the filters and color gradients we use to how often we post selfies, and what they found may have important implications for future mental health screenings.
The study examined 71 participants who had been clinically diagnosed with depression, and 95 participants who reported they did not have a history with a depression.
Using "machine-learning tools," the researchers looked for patterns in the participants' Instagram pictures. They wanted to be able to see if they could predict whether the patients were depressed based on their feeds.
They noticed the Instagram users who were diagnosed with depression tended to use less filters.
When they did use filters, they gravitated toward "Inkwell," the black and white option. The colors in their pictures skewed bluer, darker, and grayer.
The non-depressed participants preferred "Valencia," which, as we all know, is the filter that makes everywhere look sunnier. This is probably not a coincidence.
Depressed Instagram users were also more likely to post picture of faces and they were more likely to post often.
If this pattern is causal, this is likely linked to how we express our need for self-validation. However, while depressed Instagram users were more likely to post pictures of faces, they were less likely to post pictures with multiple people. That's also unsurprising considering how lonely depression can feel.
Another interesting pattern revealed that depressed Instagram users received more comments on their pictures, while non-depressed Instagram users received more likes on their pictures.
It's possible this is because depressed Instagram users use social media to feel less lonely, while non-depressed users may have a more superficial relationship with the platform, although that's just speculation.
These findings could provide major implications for future research.
Using the plethora of data that Instagram collects regarding users' posting habits, more studies like this can be conducted to help create more efficient mental health screening measurements. Instagram may just be able to take an ironic turn and use all of its anxiety-producing elements for good.
H/T: The New York Times