Instagram is a great app for showing your friends all the cool things you see during the day, showing off your new outfit or encouraging you to keep up with your fitness routine. It may also become a tool for assessing your mental state. Can your Instagram page show if you’re depressed, or are people pointing fingers at social media and the narcissistic selfie generation?
The Science Behind the Selfie
Millennials have become almost infamous for their fascination with taking pictures of themselves, but until recently it was considered a symptom of serial narcissism. Recently, though, a team of researchers from Harvard and the University of Vermont took a look at the thoughts behind those pictures.
After studying more than 40,000 photos from 166 Instagram accounts, these researchers discovered visual cues found in these photos that indicate whether not the photographer is suffering from depression.
First, they looked at the photo filters the users chose — those who were showing signs of depression tended to choose blue and gray filters, and the overall lighting of their photographs was generally darker. They also tended to filter most or all color out of their photos and did not use the lightening tools provided by the app.
These individuals also have fewer faces in their images on average — they lack the big selfie groups you often see on the app.
While this might seem like a bit of pseudoscience, it’s surprisingly accurate. The computer model used by the researchers to identify the mental states of their study participants is more accurate than the same diagnosis done by a medical professional. Psychologists have about a 40 percent success rate when it comes to accurate diagnosis. This computer program has a 70 percent success rate.
The “Need to Know”
You’re probably familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins — behaviors like pride, wrath, lust and gluttony that we’re supposed to avoid — but are you familiar with the seven deadly needs? These needs affect our lives in ways we probably can’t even imagine. Apps like Instagram are at the core of the “Need to Know.”
Essentially, the “Need to Know” is what makes us keep picking up our phone and refreshing our feeds every five minutes. We spend so much of our time trying to find out the details of everyone else’s lives. 20 years ago, water cooler gossip was the typical way news spread amongst friends. Today, you can find out all of that information — and more — by following someone on social media.
This constant need to know can feed into our mental states. Some research has suggested using social media apps can cause or exacerbate feelings of isolation, leading to depression, anxiety and other health disorders. This research posits, then, that the wider the variety of social media platforms you’re involved in, the higher your chances for depression and anxiety are.
It’s even been tied to other mental illnesses such as eating disorders. The ‘thinspo’ culture — short for “thin inspiration” — has been found to cause eating disorders and encourage those who have recovered to relapse. Most of these problems are found in image-based social media apps like Tumblr and Instagram.
Now, we’re not saying you need to delete all your social media apps and make an appointment with your local psychiatrist. Social media can be a great tool to help keep people connected, especially during emergencies. Just look at all the amazing work being organized through Twitter during Hurricane Harvey, the storm currently dumping many inches of rain on Houston Texas.
Instead, remain aware of how it can affect you. Consider taking a tech vacation — take a break from all your social media and any technology not required for work. If you can schedule it around your actual vacation, that’s probably even better. Don’t look at any notifications — don’t even turn your phone on if it can be avoided.
Take a few days to assess your mental state and determine if it’s healthy for you to return to social media. If you have a therapist, even consider talking with them about this subject — sometimes, having a professional in your corner is the best thing you can do for your mental health. Regardless of whether or not social media is causing you mental strife, it’s always good to keep a reading on our emotions and evaluate the why of what we’re feeling.