Can Cell Phone Habits Reveal Depression?

posted: 07/16/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Group of friends using smartphones

Northwestern University researchers have figured out a surprising new way to detect depressive symptoms: cell phone usage habits.

Users who exhibit depressive symptoms tend to spend more time on their phone -- more than an hour per day, compared to 17 minutes for non-depressed subjects.

"People are likely, when on their phones, to avoid thinking about things that are troubling, painful feelings or difficult relationships," explains Northwestern's David Mohr, who penned a study on the cell phone-depression correlation. "It's an avoidance behavior we see in depression."

GPS tracking also revealed interesting data about depressive tendencies. Depressed individuals used their phones in fewer locations, whereas non-depressed users traveled outside of their home more frequently.

Surprisingly, cell phone-sourced data was 87% accurate in identifying subjects with depressive symptoms.

"We can detect if a person has depressive symptoms and the severity of those symptoms without asking them any questions," says Mohr. "We now have an objective measure of behavior related to depression. And we're detecting it passively. Phones can provide data unobtrusively and with no effort on the part of the user."

Mohr's research is published in the July 15 edition of the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Click here for more information from Norhthwestern.

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