Instagram Photos Show Signs Of Depression? Study Analyzed Instagram Photo Details To Screen For Depression

Can the details of Instagram photos show signs of depression?

That was the question asked and apparently answered by two researchers who conducted a study targeting Instagram photos as being good indicators of an individual’s mental health.

Andrew Reece from Harvard University and Chris Danforth from the University of Vermont worked together on a study that consisted of studying the Instagram photo histories of 166 volunteers. The two researchers apparently had more than enough data to work through their large group of qualified volunteers.

(Photo Credit: ArthurStock/

According to the report, the collective total of Instagram photos analyzed during the study equaled nearly 43,950 pictures.

According to the study’s abstract, the researchers focused on analyzing key details within the examined Instagram photos while working toward their conclusion.

“Using Instagram data from 166 individuals, we applied machine learning tools to successfully identify markers of depression. Statistical features were computationally extracted from 43,950 participant Instagram photos, using color analysis, metadata components and algorithmic face detection.”

A standardized clinical depression survey was given to each of the participants to determine their varying levels of depression. Along with examining their photos, the researchers asked the volunteers questions about their medical history when it came to depression diagnosis as well as their social media habits in general.

Based on the research and published report, there were three primary aspects of the Instagram photos that received the most attention:

  • The colors used within the photos
  • The brightness of the photos themselves
  • The faces detected within the photos


A number of different studies over the years have made connections between emotional moods and colors – especially when it comes to people suffering from depression. For instance, one study showed that people diagnosed with anxiety or depression were more likely to connect their moods with dark colors — such as gray. On the other hand, happy and healthy people focused more on bright hues and colors — such as yellow.

In an interview with LiveScience, one expert — Peter Whorwell of the University Hospital South Manchester — highlighted the importance of shade when it comes to colors used, claiming that “the shade of color is more important than the color itself.” Whorwell used the color blue as an example, stating that “light blue is not associated with a poor mood, but a dark blue is.”

(Photo Credit: Lightpoet /

The study conducted by Reece and Danforth using Instagram photos further proved that concept by focusing on the hue, brightness, and saturation used in the pictures.

“Increased hue, along with decreased brightness and saturation, predicted depression. This means that photos posted by depressed individuals tended to be bluer, darker and grayer… Depressed Instagram users in our sample had an outsized preference for filtering out all color from posted photos and showed an aversion to artificially lightening photos, compared to healthy users.”

Based on the group analyzed for this study, the depressed participants were less likely to use filters on their posted Instagram photos.


As mentioned above, the connection between colors and emotional moods has been recognized and evaluated for years. When analyzing the Instagram photos, these two researchers apparently took the study up a few notches by focusing on an additional element — the faces detected within the posted pictures.

“Depressed users were more likely to post photos with faces, but they tended to post fewer faces per photo. Fewer faces may be an oblique indicator that depressed users interact in smaller social settings… Depressed individuals have been shown to use more self-focused language and it may be that this self-focus extends to photographs as well.”

The study further concluded that the vast number of low-face-count Instagram photos posted by the depressed participants may have actually been “self-portraits.”

According to AdWeek, Instagram had over 400 million active users in September of 2015. The research conducted by Reece and Danforth essentially scratched the surface for studies focusing on the mental health of the platform’s users — a milestone that will undoubtedly open many other doors of opportunity for even more research in the future.

In addition to emotional research, though, Reece and Danforth’s study may have also caused people to pay closer attention to the Instagram photos that they post, share, “like” and comment on each day. The old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” may speak volumes on its own in a different way when the expanding gallery of Instagram photos is seriously taken into consideration.

[Image Credit: Tulpahn/]