Tell Me How You Use Instagram and I’ll Tell You How You Feel

Sunday evening. Cell phone. Netflix and popcorn. And some Instagram. But what filter shall you use? You used Valencia yesterday, but you’d like something more colorful. Does a choice like this have something to do with your mind, with the way you feel subconsciously? Believe or not, it does.

Psychology has proved that colors are associated with different emotions. The darker or greyer the shade, the more negative the emotion associated with the choice. This simple theory, applied to the contents of social media, can tell a lot about your mental health and emotional state. The Instagram filters you use can be more eloquent than you previously thought.

Andrew Reed, from Harvard University, and Chris Danforth, from Vermont University, are two researchers who just conducted an experiment in which 170 Mechanical Turk workers (Amazon’s crowdsourcing network, for those jobs which are simple but which machines can’t do), to whom they offered a series of surveys to fill. Their aim was to measure emotional states such as depressions, and they also asked participants to include their Instagram account names.

Using one filter or another can mean a lot in terms of mental health
Using one filter or another can mean a lot in terms of mental health

Around 70 % of the people who participated suffered from a kind of depression. Researchers created an image bank with more than 400K pictures taken from those users’ profiles. Then they analyzed some of the features, such as saturation, tone, contrast, number of people featured on each picture (in order to determine how much social interaction users had).

They chose the 100 latest pictures uploaded by the emotionally stable people, and the 100 latest images previos to diagnosis uploaded by the depressed users. They asked other people to rate each picture in regard to a “cheer-sad” scale, and also of an “interesting-boring” scale.

They concluded that depressed people tend to use darker or greyer filters, that their pictures were less liked than those of non depressed people, that they tended to use Inkwell, while healthy subjects use the Valencia one more regularly.

Instagram can become, this way, a very powerful tool in the diagnosis of mental health issues.

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