A new study has linked the way people use the Internet and depressive symptoms.
According to Sriram Chellappan, an assistant professor of computer science at Missouri University of Science and Technology and one of the researchers, this study is the first in their knowledge to use actual Internet usage data to analyze if Internet use can be linked to people who have symptoms of depression.
Writing in an article on The New York Times, Chellappan says that he and Raghavendra Kotikalapudi, a software development engineer, recruited 216 volunteers in February last year to partake in the study.
These volunteers from the Missouri University of Science and Technology were made to take a version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, a standardized questionnaire used to measure depression levels.
After answering the questionnaire, 30 percent of the respondents were deemed to show depressive symptoms.
What came next in the study was the two researchers gathering Internet usage data from the University for those who showed symptoms of depression. For those wondering about the privacy implications of this, Chellappan explains that:
“This didn’t mean snooping on what the students were looking at or whom they were e-mailing; it merely meant monitoring how they were using the Internet — information about traffic flow that the university customarily collects for troubleshooting network connections and such.”
What the two researchers found was that there was a pattern to how these people with depressive symptoms use the Internet.
According to the researchers, the higher the chance that a person was depressed based on the questionnaire they made them answer, the more they showed the patterns of Internet use the two researchers identified.
One such pattern is the use of peer-to-peer packets (P2P packets). Heavy use of P2P packets are usually indicative of heavy sharing of movie and music files.
Another indicator is that people who showed depressive symptoms tend to have very high e-mail usage. According to Chellappan, this indicated higher levels of anxiety pointing to depression as found by earlier research.
Furthermore, the assistant professor wrote that: “Another example: the Internet usage of depressive people tended to exhibit high “flow duration entropy” — which often occurs when there is frequent switching among Internet applications like e-mail, chat rooms and games.” This may be linked to having a hard time concentrating, the researcher said.
Another Internet usage indicator of depressive symptoms is “increased amounts of video watching, gaming and chatting,” Chellappan wrote.
The researchers want to take the result of their study to make software which will warn people if their Internet usage is indicative of depressive symptoms.