Symptoms of depression could be detectable by a smartphone, according to the findings of a new study from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.
By tracking the number of minutes the phone is used and daily geographical locations from GPS location sensor data, a person's susceptibility to depression can be identified.
Spending more time in the home and longer in a small number of locations – measured by GPS tracking data – could be linked to depression.
In addition to this, people with depression were found to spend longer on their phones that those who do not, with the averages being 68 minutes and 17 minutes respectively.
Smartphone data was found to be more reliable in terms of detecting depression than daily questions asked of participants in the study.
David Mohr, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said GPS tracking data can be a strong indicator of a lack of motivation.
“When people are depressed, they tend to withdraw and don’t have the motivation or energy to go out and do things,” he commented.
Mr Mohr, who is also a clinical psychologist and professor of preventive medicine, acknowledged that the phone data did not identify how people were using their devices.
Lead author Sohrob Saeb, postdoctoral fellow and computer scientist in preventive medicine at the Feinberg School, explained that the goal of the research had been to passively detect depression and different emotional states relating to its symptoms. This was detected passively, through the subject's smartphone use.
“We will see if we can reduce symptoms of depression by encouraging people to visit more locations throughout the day,” he remarked.