Researchers found that they can tell how depressed a person just by looking at some data that their smartphones track such as the time they spend on the phone and the exact location they are at.
During their study, scientists used geolocation data and phone call records of 28 young individuals. The study, which was published July 15 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, revealed that depressed individuals tend to spend more time on the phone than their optimistic peers.
According to the results, people affected by a depressive episode stayed on the phone for an average of 68 minutes per day, while those not affected by the condition talk on the phone only 17 minutes on average. Researchers also found that depressed individuals tend to go out less, as their GPS tracking system embedded in their smartphones showed.
Scientists said that phone sensor data spotted genuine depressed individuals in 84 percent of the cases.
Study participants were monitored over two weeks. Twenty of the 28 participants were female. When the study started participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire that helped scientists assess the severity of their depression. About 14 participants showed no signs of depression, while the rest were either severely or mildly depressed.
David Mohr, lead author of the study and senior researcher at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that smartphones can help both patients and doctors detect early symptoms of depression or other psychological disorders for a timely care. So, the team thinks that their research may help mobile app developers design apps that can easily prompt their users when they should go and ask for help.
Yet, researchers said that users may feel discouraged if the apps ask them to type in their symptoms. So, automatically gathered GPS location info and data on the length of their phone calls on a particular day may just do the trick.
“There are so many sensors available in smartphones; harnessing them could passively detect the state we’re interested in,”
Mr. Mohr noted.
Researchers used phone usage patterns and location data and compared them with the scores on the questionnaires on depressive state. GPS sensors revealed that depressed people tended to spend most of their time in “very few locations,” or simply put, at home.
The study also showed that people who had a less regular schedule and left home for school or work at irregular times had a higher risk of being depressed.
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