Posted in social, technology

Digital doctor: the computer will see you now

Just as people display their emotions through body language and behaviour, your emotional state can now be detected using your Instagram account.

Researchers at the University of Vermont and Harvard University have shown that machine learning algorithms can successfully detect depression from Instagram photos. Currently, the computerised method has a success rate of 70%, a vast improvement on the 42% achieved by general practice doctors diagnosing in-person.

The computerised method has a success rate of 70%

In order to collect the data, the scientists recruited 166 volunteers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, half of whom had reported having clinical depression in the last three years. Using well-established psychology research, their Instagram feeds were analysed for signs of depression, including brightness, colour and shading preferences. Pixel analysis of the dataset showed that depressed individuals tended to post bluer, darker and greyer photos than their healthier colleagues. From Instagram’s pre-set filters, it was found that the black-and-white ‘Inkwell’ was the most popular among depressed people. On the other hand, healthy individuals seemed to favour warmer filters such as ‘Valencia’.

Along with colours, the amount of faces shown in photos could also be used to indicate depression. Although depressed people were more likely to post a photo including a face, their photos had, on average, fewer people within the shot. “Fewer faces may be an oblique indicator that depressed users interact in smaller settings,” says Chris Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont. This is corroborated by previous research linking depression to less social interaction. Or, it indicate that depressed people take more ‘selfies’. However, according to Danforth, this ‘sad-selfie’ hypothesis remains untested.

“So much is encoded in our digital footprint,”

“So much is encoded in our digital footprint,” Danforth explains. “Clever artificial intelligence will be able to find signals, especially for mental illnesses.” It is certainly true that this new technique has potential, especially in terms of early onset diagnoses, avoiding false diagnoses and reducing the cost of mental health screening. However, it is still in its early stages. “This study is not yet a diagnostic test, not by a long shot,” says Danforth. “But it is a proof of concept of a new way to help people.”

Tabitha Watson

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Posted in social

Mind the gap: will it ruin your marriage?

According to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, similarly-aged spouses tend to have happier marriages.

Since 2001, data from 7,682 Australian households has been collected using the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. Due to the length of the study and the sheer number of participants, data analysis has unearthed several distinct trends in marriage satisfaction over time.

As is somewhat expected, one of the initial findings was that men who are married to younger wives are generally the most satisfied – at least initially – and those married to older women are usually the least satisfied. Women are also particularly dissatisfied when married to an older husband and satisfied when married to a younger spouse. Indeed, the dice seem weighted in the favour of the elder spouse – no matter the gender.

However, according to the data, the initial satisfaction of having a younger spouse tends to wane after ambling along for six to ten years of marriage. “Over time, the people who are married to a much older or younger spouse tend to have larger declines in marital satisfaction over time compared to those who are married to spouses who are similar in age,” says Terra McKinnish, a professor of economics at the University of Colorado Boulder.

When the data was analysed, special attention was paid to when couples experienced financial shocks. “We found that when couples have a large age difference, they tend to have a much larger decline in marital satisfaction when faced with an economic shock than couples that have a very small age difference,” noted McKinnish.

One of the proposed reasons for this decline in contentment is the fact that similarly-aged couples are more likely to be more ‘in-sync’ in terms of life decisions that affect both partners, such as having children or purchasing a house. Converse to this, it could be that any differences in opinion within a relationship with a large age gap could potentially be exposed in the event of a financial shake-up, resulting in a conflict of opinion.

Obviously, there are exceptions. Indeed, many couples have successfully bucked the trend. Brigitte, the wife of Emmanuel Macron the current President of France, is twenty-five years his senior, and the age gap between Donald Trump, US President, and his wife Melania is also twenty-five years.

Tabitha Watson

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