What Your Instagram Filters May Say About Your Mental Health

Instagram on smartphone. via Pixabay
Instagram on smartphone. via Pixabay
Photo of Nadia Elysse
Us Editorial Team Lead6 September 2016

You take a pretty photo, post it on Instagram, and voila… you’re done, right? Not so fast. A new study found that what you do between taking the photo and posting it can reveal a lot about your mental health.

Instagram filters, for the extremely tiny percentage of people who don’t know, are lighting and exposure changes on photos that can make them more appealing for the user and his/her followers. Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Vermont found a correlation between the use of darker filters and depressive symptoms in Instagram users.

Depressed boy. via Ryan Melaugh/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Andrew Reece and Chris Danforth analyzed statistical features on nearly 44,000 photos belonging to 166 Instagram users. They found that photos posted by depressed individuals were bluer, grayer, and just generally darker than those posted by healthy users. Even when they narrowed the photos down to those posted after depression diagnosis, the visuals were notably darker.

“Depressed participants were less likely than healthy participants to use any filters at all. When depressed participants did employ filters, they most disproportionately favored ‘Inkwell’,” Reece and Danforth said in their report.

So if ‘Inkwell’ is the most chosen filter among depressed Instagrammers, what’s the filter that healthy people use? “Healthy participants most disproportionately favored the Valencia filter, which lightens the tint of photos,” the report said.

Searching instagram. via Pixabay

This study isn’t the first of its kind, but it is definitely part of a growing body of research surrounding the use of social media to track and, in some cases, diagnose conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used Twitter to track flu season. Tinder added STD testing center locators to its functionality earlier this year after the AIDS Healthcare Foundation accused the dating app of contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. And in Canada, researchers were granted nearly half a million dollars to research mental illness via social media platforms.

The researchers in the present study of Instagram hope that research will continue, and that these small findings will lead to bigger initiatives to help those struggling with mental illness.

“These findings support the notion that major changes in individual psychology are transmitted in social-media use, and can be identified via computational methods,” the researchers said.

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