Smartphone as a ‘mood predictor’? This study wants to know if phone-captured data can predict depression

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Image: Gildshire

With digital health, anyone with a wrist wearable or smartphone could potentially contribute in the largest studies ever attempted by mankind. And if depressive symptoms correlate in any way to a “digital finger print”—how someone physically interacts with their smartphone, for example—these massive studies, combined with AI and sheer computing power, have the ability to find out.

The vision isn’t fantasy. Last month, Google’s former healthcare division, Verily, announced a new study seeking participants to help transform your smartphone into a mood predictor.

The study’s design is simple: over 12 weeks, volunteers will contribute information about their feelings and behaviors through simple Q-and-A surveys over an Android smartphone app (iPhone crowd: sorry, you’re out). Additional “passive smartphone data,” such as environmental contexts, activity levels, location, and phone usage will also be collected—for example, screen or network use. It’s yet unclear how these data will be used to analyze mood, but previous efforts from other companies have shown that even swiping patterns on a screen can predict mood shifts.

Related article:  Can genetic testing pinpoint the right antidepressant, or is it just ‘a shot in the dark’?

The million-dollar hope is to mine unprecedented amounts of data to better understand depressive episodes—and predict them before people sink too deep.

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