Your Instagram account might reveal the state of your mental health

Your Instagram account might reveal the state of your mental health
Source: Instagram
Source: Instagram

Most of us aim to broadcast our best selves — and selfies — on Instagram, cropping and editing photos to create the illusion of unending fun and happiness. But try as we may, a new study suggests we could be subconsciously revealing a rift in this picture-perfect narrative.

Referencing 43,950 Instagram photos from 166 different users, Andrew Reece, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University, and Chris Danforth, an assistant professor at the University of Vermont, determined that the types of photos users post on their accounts and the filters they use could provide some subliminal messages about their mental health.

"Photos posted by depressed individuals were more likely to be bluer, grayer and darker," the paper's abstract reads. 

Fittingly, Reece and Danforth reported that depressed participants tended toward the Inkwell filter, a black-and-white filter, while non-depressed participants favored the more-colorful Valencia.

Source: Giphy

Before conducting the study, all participants completed a "standardized" survey for clinical depression. A group of crowdsourced workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform then analyzed the images and, on a scale of zero to five, rated how "interesting, likable, happy and sad each photo seemed." 

In addition to the link between color and mood — which has been established before, such as in studies showing depression can actually alter the way people perceive color — Reece and Danforth found that depressed people are more likely to post photos with faces in them. Typically, however, there are "fewer faces per photo," which they speculated could indicate "sad selfies."

According to the Washington Post, Reece and Danforth's findings have yet to be independently reviewed, so for now it might be best to throw a healthy dose of skepticism at the study. 

But, if true, the study could be major for how we identify and understand mental health: The researchers wrote that their method could better predict which participants were depressed at a higher rate than general practitioners did during in-person meetings.

To thine own selfie be true. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Marie Solis

Marie is a staff writer with a focus in feminist issues. Her writing has appeared in Gothamist and the Awl. You can reach her at marie@mic.com.

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