Could your smartphone be able to tell whether you’re at risk for depression?

excessive smartphone use sign of depression addiction
Image courtesy of Wong Yu Liang/Shutterstock.com
Co-dependent relationships are rarely considered positive, especially when one member of the relationship is an inanimate object. But with the advent of the smartphone, it sometimes feels like many of us are more attached to our iPhones and Androids than to our human counterparts. But like any good partner, our smartphones may know us better than we think, and according to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, your phone may be more accurate than a self-assessment in determining whether or not you suffer from depression. In fact, researchers claim that phone data can predict with a stunning 87 percent accuracy whether or not a individual displayed signs of depression, all by examining the amount of time an individual spends on his or her smartphone.

As study author David Mohr, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told Time magazine, “We found that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they are to be more depressed.” Furthermore, spending copious amounts of time on one’s cellphone is often linked with spending a lot of time at home or by oneself, two other potential symptoms of depression.

In conducting their study, researchers used Craigslist to recruit a small sample size of 28 individuals between the ages of 19 and 58, and installed an app they developed called Purple Robot, which tracked the user’s location, movement, phone usage, and other relevant activities. For two weeks, Purple Robot collected information every five minutes and sent it back to the scientists at Northwestern for analysis, and also asked users about their mood and feelings throughout the day. When this data was compared against PHQ-9, a nine-question test commonly used to survey signs of depression, study authors found that Purple Robot successfully identified 87 percent of those considered at risk for depression solely by tracking how frequently study participants moved around.

When Purple Robot examined data regarding those who used their phones the most (browsing the Web, playing games, and texting) without actually taking or making calls, it was able to predict who would fall into the at-risk category with a 74 percent rate of accuracy.

Of course, this isn’t to say that if you happen to spend a lot of time on your smartphone or enjoy the occasional lazy day alone at home in sweatpants that you’re a shoe-in candidate for depression. As study authors themselves noted, their very small study population and the short period of time over which their experiment was conducted left plenty of room for error, which is why they plan on conducting the study again with a greater number of participants over a longer trial period. Still, as Ethan Berke, an epidemiologist at Dartmouth College uninvolved in the study, told The Verge, “… those things aside, it definitely advances our knowledge base,” and Justin Baker, a psychiatrist at Harvard University, added, “The study’s novelty is in showing that tracking this information across many individuals is possible — and does a decent job at predicting depression scores.”

Gaming

How doctors are fighting Alzheimer’s with a cleverly designed VR game

After three years, the mobile game Sea Hero Quest has generated millions of hours worth of data that could help researchers find the next step in how we diagnose and understand dementia and Alzheimer's.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Hulu right now (August 2019)

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

Here are the best shows on Netflix right now (August 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Amazing app promises a full fitness checkup from a 30-second selfie

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed an app that's able to gather vital health information about users with nothing more invasive than a 30-second selfie. Here's how it works.
Mobile

MediaTek and Huawei’s partnership may mean cheap 5G phones in early 2020

Huawei has reportedly made a deal with MediaTek to use its new 5G SoC in a low-cost 5G smartphone expected to launch in early 2020. MediaTek launched the 5G SoC in May, and indicated the first phones to use it would come next year.
Mobile

How to use recovery mode to fix your Android phone or tablet

If you’re having a problem you can’t seem to resolve with your Android device, or maybe you want to update it or wipe the cache, recovery mode could be what you’re looking for. Here's how to get your Android phone into recovery mode.
Mobile

Huawei gets another short reprieve from ban, but the future doesn’t look hopeful

Huawei has been given another 90-day extension to the Temporary General License, which holds off the ban imposed on it by the U.S. government in May, meaning it’s allowed to continue trading with U.S. companies for now.
Mobile

Miami public transportation is getting Google Pay — and it could save you money

Google and the Miami-Dade Transit public transportation system have announced that the system will now support Google Pay -- meaning you can tap to pay at turnstiles, instead of having to buy a ticket for each ride.
News

Google was sharing Android user location data with carriers worldwide

Google quietly ended a service providing cell carriers with location data from customers. The service provided user data from Android devices on any carrier. Data was aggregated and anonymous, and carrier names weren't disclosed.
Mobile

How to perform a reverse image search in Android or iOS

You can quickly use Google to search, and reverse search, images on a PC or laptop, but did you know it's almost as easy to do in Android and iOS? We explain how to do it here, whether you want to use Chrome or a third-party app.
Mobile

Google Duo is getting a low-light mode to brighten up your video chats

Google Duo is getting a little more useful in low light. Google has announced a new low-light mode for Duo that is aimed at brightening up video in case you're video-chatting at night or in a poorly lit environment.
Deals

Need a new tablet? Here are the best Apple iPad deals for August 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for August 2019.
Mobile

Here are the cities where you can access 5G from major U.S. carriers right now

5G may not be widely available just yet, but it's slowly getting there. Interested in checking out the next-gen network for yourself? Here are all the cities where 5G is currently available.
Mobile

Apple’s iOS 12.4 apparently unpatched a security flaw and enabled a jailbreak

It looks like iOS 12.4 may not be the safest version of iOS, according to a new report. Apparently, Apple accidentally unpatched a security flaw that was previously fixed in iOS 12.3 -- and the result is that any phone with iOS 12.4 can now…