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.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to 'Roma'

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Norsemen’

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.
Smart Home

Robotics company Trifo activates A.I.-based Ironpie robo-vacuum at CES 2019

Trifo may have given the Ironpie robot vacuum a whimsical name based on appearance, but the home robotics company cast whimsy aside when it described the A.I.-based vac's features and benefits at the Ironpie launch at CES 2019.
Mobile

The Sony Xperia XZ4 shines in case renders from accessory maker Olixar

Sony may have released the Xperia XZ3 in the past few months, but already it's preparing to release a follow-up, the Xperia XZ4. We're learning plenty about the phone now some details have started to leak out, and it's getting exciting.
Mobile

Benchmark scores surface for Google's midrange Pixel 3 XL Lite

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a midrange line. Say hello to the Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 Lite XL.
Apple

Rumors say Apple's AirPower wireless charger may finally be in production

At its September event in 2018, Apple unveiled the AirPower, a new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.
Computing

Beam up the videos: AirPlay support is coming to VLC player

At CES 2019, the developers of VLC player announced they are adding support for Apple's Airplay feature, allowing consumers to beam video and other content from their iPhone and Android devices to an Apple TV. 
Mobile

The LG G8 ThinQ may arrive at MWC 2019 with an on-screen speaker

LG is expected to release a successor to the LG G7 ThinQ, possibly called the LG G8 ThinQ, this year and rumors about it are already spreading. Here's everything we know about it so far.
Mobile

Oppo could reveal a new smartphone with a 10x optical zoom

Cracking a solid zoom on smartphones has been a riddle many years in the solving. One company may have finally cracked it though: Oppo may be about to show off a phone with a 10x optical zoom.
Outdoors

Nike’s Adapt BB shoes let you tighten your laces with an iPhone

The new Nike Adapt BB shoe comes with smartphone connectivity that allows the user to tighten the laces using a smartphone while providing the ability to adjust tension throughout the game.
Wearables

How to switch TicHealth to Google Fit on the Mobvoi TicWatch C2 and TicWatch Pro

The Mobvoi TicWatch C2 and TicWatch Pro are both much-loved and feature-packed watches, and they offer excellent fitness tracking. Recently, Mobvoi has switched out Google Fit for TicHealth, but you can switch them back. Here's how.
Mobile

If you're looking for a good laugh, here are 70 questions to ask Siri

Siri has come a long way since her first appearance on the iPhone 4S in 2011. We know she can make appointments and give directions, did you know she can make you laugh too? If you want proof, here are lots of funny questions to ask Siri.
Mobile

Benchmark results show Snapdragon 855 destroys previous-generation chip

Almost exactly a year after the launch of the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm took the wraps off of its next-generation mobile platform, the new Snapdragon 855. The new chip puts an emphasis on A.I. performance.