Facebook activity may reveal clues to mental illness


Facebook activity may reveal clues to mental illness


Facebook activity could be an indicator for psychological health, and be used as tools by therapists and psychologists

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri and published in the journal Psychiatry Research, has revealed that social media profiles can provide insight into the mental health of patients.

Social networking sites, like Facebook, are becoming increasingly popular and are becoming a primary method for communication and socialization. Although it has been established that there is increased use by those on the schizophrenia-spectrum, few details are known to what depth.

Study leader Elizabeth Martin, doctoral student in MU's psychological science department in the College of Arts and Science, said:

"Therapists could possibly use social media activity to create a more complete clinical picture of a patient. The beauty of social media activity as a tool in psychological diagnosis is that it removes some of the problems associated with patients' self-reporting.

For example, questionnaires often depend on a person's memory, which may or may not be accurate. By asking patients to share their Facebook activity, we were able to see how they expressed themselves naturally. Even the parts of their Facebook activities that they chose to conceal exposed information about their psychological state."

Martin and her team asked a group of volunteers to print their Facebook activity and linked aspects of their activity with the level to which these people showed schizotypy, an assortment of symptoms including social withdrawal to unusual beliefs.

As expected, several participants showed signs of the schizotypy condition called social anhedonia - the inability to encounter happiness from normally enjoyable activities, such as interacting and talking to peers.

These people with social anhedonia were more likely to:

  • have fewer friends on Facebook
  • communicate less frequently
  • share fewer pictures
  • have a longer Facebook profile
Social anhedonia was also significantly linked to extraversion. Additionally, extraversion was a predictor of the number of photos and friends, and length of time since last communicating with a friend.

Some study volunteers hid important parts of their Facebook profiles before giving their activity to the researchers. These people also showed schizotypy symptoms, called perceptual aberrations - irregular experiences of one's magical ideation and senses - also known as the belief that experiences with no real cause-and-effect are distantly linked.

Concealing Facebook activity was also linked to higher levels of paranoia.


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Section Issues On Medicine: Psychiatry