Former grad student hoping to diagnose troubling symptoms
Bill Crotty, Staff Writer
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Published: Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, February 4, 2009
A new study started by a San Diego State alumnus has shown whether someone has suicidal tendencies or symptoms of depression, with accuracy of up to 92 percent.
The study was developed by Jeff Kobayashi, who graduated from SDSU with a master’s in communication studies last year. Kobayashi originally planned to do a study on how companies use social networking programs such as MySpace and Facebook and what types of information they draw from the networks for his graduate project. Unfortunately, many companies were not willing to disclose the information to Kobayashi for a multitude of reasons, and he had to change his study.
“Many companies were just not able to reveal the information I needed for the original study, so I thought ‘how could I make another study using the information I just spent all this time gathering?’” Kobayashi said.
Through his research for this original idea, Kobayashi was able to find an interesting trend, which he developed into another study to finish his graduate program. Now, he is continuing the new study, developing it into a service that has been used by high schools in San Diego to help identify which students may be in danger of depression and suicide.
The study follows common trends and subtleties in peoples’ MySpace and Facebook profiles and was found using blind study volunteers. The study started by taking 150 known suicides and having the research volunteers evaluate and fill out a form asking a series of questions about what they saw on the profiles, without the volunteers knowing what they were looking for.
The names for the people whose profiles were used were taken from www.mydeathspace.com, an obituary Web site that catalogues the MySpace profiles of the deceased.
“The graduate program at SDSU is very good,” Kobayashi said. “Two professors who helped guide and shape my research are on the board for the company I have started,” Kobayashi said.
Dr. Peter Andersen, and Dr. Brian Spitzberg, communications professors at SDSU, are board members of Kobayashi’s company, OnLife.
Andersen and Spitzberg have helped more than 50 other alumni in other research studies, several of whom have gone on to run communications firms or been published in their own books.
OnLife is only being used in high schools currently, although Spitzberg and Andersen said that once the research is more thoroughly tested it could easily be applied to other age-groups, such as in colleges.
Although both Andersen and Spitzburg found the initial research interesting, they want to replicate it before saying it is completely accurate.
“This research is based on only one study, so you can’t say it’s perfect,” Andersen said. “We are looking to receive grant money and duplicate the study.”
“You don’t hang your hat on one study,” he said. “We are looking to expand the variables and get a bigger sample for the next one.”
Andersen is the author of over 100 book chapters and journal articles, including co-authoring “The Handbook of Communication and Emotion,” and has been a professor of communication at SDSU since 1981.
“Emotional states give of signs, such as what we are currently observing in our study of MySpace and Facebook profiles” Spitzberg said. “The vast majority of research on the subject has been done from a medical perspective. This perspective is from a new point a view,” he said.
“We found new communications predictors for the tendency to suicide, which is very different than previous predictors, and may replace the previous form of detection – alerts by family, friends and peers,” Kobayashi said.
According to Kobayashi, if the research is replicated, then it would revolutionize suicide prevention.
Spitzberg is known in the field of communication for his work in interpersonal relationships. Among his credentials, he is the author of “The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication,” along with two other books in the field of communications.
“We have a lot of things on our plate, but if we didn’t think we were barking up the right tree we wouldn’t be pursuing a grant opportunity,” Andersen said.
“The thesis for this has been submitted, but sometimes it takes months for a response,” Spitzberg said.
Kobayashi is excited about the possibilities the research presents. OnLife is currently comprised of Kobayashi as the president, Andersen and Spitzberg as board members, along with other members, though they are looking to add to their staff. Anybody interested in the program can contact Kobayashi by email at Jeff.Kobayashi@yahoo.com.