Could Color Tones in Instagram Filters Signal Depression?

Person under umbrella looking at scenery in rainThe photos people post on social media can warn of depression, according to a study published in the journal EPJ Data Science. The study found a computer screening model that looked at Instagram photos was more effective at detecting signs of depression than general practice physicians.

Blue Social Media Photos May Indicate a ‘Blue’ Mood

The study recruited 166 volunteers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Participants provided access to their Instagram profiles, as well as details on their mental health history. About half of participants said they had experienced depression at some point during the previous three years.

Next, researchers analyzed 43,950 photos from the participants’ Instagram feeds. Drawing upon previous research about color, brightness, and shading, they concluded that people with depression generally posted darker, bluer, and grayer images. People without depression were more likely to post bright images and to use Instagram filters that offer warmer, brighter tones. People with depression were more likely to select black-and-white filters.

A computer model that sought clues to depression in Instagram photos was able to detect depression in 70% of participants. This compares to an in-person success rate of just 42% among general practitioners. This disparity in diagnostic success persisted even when researchers controlled the data to use only images posted before a user’s diagnosis of depression. This finding points to a method that could detect signs of depression before it is officially diagnosed.

In a second portion of the study, researchers asked volunteers to look for signs of depression based on Instagram photos. They were able to do so, but with less success than the computer algorithm.

Given that data show more than half of doctors’ depression diagnoses are inaccurate—because they often fail to detect depression—the study’s authors say their model could supplement and potentially improve existing diagnostic standards.

Research on Social Media and Depression

Previous research has looked at the role social media sites like Instagram might play in mental health. A recent study found Instagram might help adolescents make friends, but the study also found a link between frequent use of Instagram and later feelings of depression.

A 2017 report found Instagram may be the most damaging social media site for users’ mental health. The report found a link between Instagram use and increased rates of bullying, anxiety, depression, and fear of missing out.


  1. Reece, A. G., & Danforth, C. M. (2017). Instagram photos reveal predictive markers of depression. EPJ Data Science, 6(1). doi:10.1140/epjds/s13688-017-0110-z
  2. When you’re blue, so are your Instagram photos. (2017, August 7). Retrieved from

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  • Peter


    August 14th, 2017 at 10:51 AM

    So it might be the tones that indicate that or it could be the photos in general. While I am always up for paying attention to the things that people are posting, because yes I do think that you can get a sense of their feelings based on that. But you also can’t read too much into those things either.

  • Zema


    August 15th, 2017 at 10:43 AM

    I am all about being in tune with what others are saying and what they are feeling but I think that it could also be hurtful to reach like this when you don’t really even know what for sure is going on in their lives. I think that there will of course be people who put things out there and want you to make inferences but that can always be so vague and general. I am just saying that it isn’t fair nor is it wise to jump to conclusions without having the whole story.

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