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Internet usage patterns may indicate depression in college students

Heather Rudow May 17, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/Wikimedia Commons)

The newest way to detect whether a person is depressed might be to survey the way he or she uses the Internet, according to researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Their new study reveals that college students who show signs of depression use the Internet differently from those who don’t show signs.

The researchers collected a month’s worth of Internet usage data from 216 Missouri University of Science and Technology undergraduate students, who were kept anonymous during the study. Before the usage data collection began, the students were tested to determine whether they showed signs of depression. Based on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale, approximately 30 percent of the students met the minimum criteria.

“[The researchers] found that depressed students tended to use file-sharing services, send email and chat online more than the other students. Depressed students also tended to use higher ‘packets per flow’ applications, those high-bandwidth applications often associated with online videos and games, than their counterparts. Students who showed signs of depression also tended to use the Internet in a more ‘random’ manner — frequently switching among applications, perhaps from chat rooms to games to email. … [T]hat randomness may indicate trouble concentrating, a characteristic associated with depression.”

Adds lead researcher Sriram Chellappan, “Students showing signs of depression had high flow duration entropy, which means that the duration of Internet flows of these students is highly inconsistent.”

Source: Missouri University of Science and Technology

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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