Can Your Smartphone Be Used to Detect Depression?
It’s always there, in your pocket or purse or on your desk, quietly collecting information. And apparently, when it comes to depression, there’s quite a lot your smartphone knows about you.
According to a small study from Northwestern Medicine, that data from your smartphone can predict with eerie 87 percent accuracy whether you’re suffering from depression or not.
The telling signs: You spend more time on your smartphone and less time leaving the house, and you visit very few places each day.
The researchers used Craigslist to find 40 test subjects between the ages of 19 and 58, and outfitted their smartphones with an app to monitor their location and usage. The individuals took a questionnaire that measured signs of depression; half of the subjects had troubling symptoms and half did not. Using GPS, the phones tracked the subjects’ movements and locations every five minutes. The subjects also were asked questions about their mood at different points during the day.
These factors were then correlated with the test subjects’ original depression test scores. And the results were uncanny. Depressed people used their phones more often and for longer periods of time —an average of 68 minutes a day. By comparison, the individuals who didn’t show signs of depression spent only 17 minutes on theirs. Researchers attributed the increased use of the phone to task avoidance, another symptom of depressed people.
Perhaps more significant than the findings of this small study — only 28 of the 40 subjects had enough data to be studied — is the potential the researchers felt that smartphones could play in future medical diagnosis.
When loaded up with the correct sensors, the smartphone can be used to detect a person’s emotional states, and monitor moods, without the user having to utter a word. It also has the ability to offer suggestions to reinforce positive behaviors when depression is detected. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research yesterday, but one conclusion was becoming increasingly evident even before the report came out: Smartphones — and the sensors they now contain — just keep getting smarter.
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