File-Sharing Is Linked to Depression, Researchers Find

A new paper published by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology reveals that people with depressive symptoms are more avid file-sharers than those without them. The research in question was conducted among students whose connections to the campus network were monitored. Perhaps more worrying than the results themselves, the lead researcher suggests that it might be a good idea to monitor people's file-sharing habits for use as a diagnostic tool.

sad pirateNearly every day we write about negative associations towards file-sharing, and today is no different. A new academic paper now reveals how file-sharing is linked to depressive symptoms.

The paper carries the self-explanatory title “Associating Depressive Symptoms in College Students with Internet Usage Using Real Internet Data” and will be published in an upcoming issue of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine.

In brief, the researchers monitored how 216 undergraduates at Missouri S&T used the campus network. They then linked these findings to the results of a self-rated depression scale (CES-D survey).

What they found was that the use of peer-to-peer octets, packets and duration is positively correlated with depressive symptoms. In other words, people who are “depressed” are more avid file-sharers than those who don’t show depressive symptoms.

According to lead researcher Dr. Sriram Chellappan, the findings are unique among their kind.

“The study is believed to be the first that uses actual Internet data, collected unobtrusively and anonymously, to associate Internet usage with signs of depression,” he told Psys. “Previous research on Internet usage has relied on surveys, which are ‘a far less accurate way’ of assessing how people use the Internet.”

It is unclear what the direction of the relation between depressive symptoms and file-sharing is. The MPAA and RIAA may use the results to claim that file-sharing is bad for your mental health, but this can’t be concluded from the current findings.

Aside from heavy P2P use, people with depressive symptoms also use online chat more, and spend more time sending email. HTTP traffic and streaming were not correlated to depressive symptoms.

As a category file-sharers are in good company as previous studies have linked depressive symptoms to online shopping, excessive online video viewing, social networking, online gambling, and excessive late-night Internet use.

Where things do get scary is when Dr. Sriram Chellappan suggests that it might be a good idea to develop applications that scan people’s Internet use for these risky behaviors.

“The software would be a cost-effective and an in-home tool that could proactively prompt users to seek medical help if their Internet usage patterns indicate possible depression. The software could also be installed on campus networks to notify counselors of students whose Internet usage patterns are indicative of depressive behavior,” he explains.

This goes a bit too far, and is also uncalled for as there is absolutely no evidence that even a decent percentage of all avid P2P users show depressive symptoms.

That a researcher even suggests this is baffling. Not everything has to be monitored and checked. Most people just want their monthly invoice from their ISP, not a complete mental health report. Or perhaps i’m just being far too negative…

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