Mobile phone detection of semantic location and its relationship to depression and anxiety

Sohrab Saeb*, Emily G. Lattie, Konrad P. Kording, David C. Mohr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Background: Is someone at home, at their friend’s place, at a restaurant, or enjoying the outdoors? Knowing the semantic location of an individual matters for delivering medical interventions, recommendations, and other context-aware services. This knowledge is particularly useful in mental health care for monitoring relevant behavioral indicators to improve treatment delivery. Local search-and-discovery services such as Foursquare can be used to detect semantic locations based on the global positioning system (GPS) coordinates, but GPS alone is often inaccurate. Mobile phones can also sense other signals (such as movement, light, and sound), and the use of these signals promises to lead to a better estimation of an individual’s semantic location. Objective: We aimed to examine the ability of mobile phone sensors to estimate semantic locations, and to evaluate the relationship between semantic location visit patterns and depression and anxiety. Methods: A total of 208 participants across the United States were asked to log the type of locations they visited daily, using their mobile phones for a period of 6 weeks, while their phone sensor data was recorded. Using the sensor data and Foursquare queries based on GPS coordinates, we trained models to predict these logged locations, and evaluated their prediction accuracy on participants that models had not seen during training. We also evaluated the relationship between the amount of time spent in each semantic location and depression and anxiety assessed at baseline, in the middle, and at the end of the study. Results: While Foursquare queries detected true semantic locations with an average area under the curve (AUC) of 0.62, using phone sensor data alone increased the AUC to 0.84. When we used Foursquare and sensor data together, the AUC further increased to 0.88. We found some significant relationships between the time spent in certain locations and depression and anxiety, although these relationships were not consistent. Conclusions: The accuracy of location services such as Foursquare can significantly benefit from using phone sensor data. However, our results suggest that the nature of the places people visit explains only a small part of the variation in their anxiety and depression symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere112
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • Anxiety
  • Classification
  • Decision tree ensembles
  • Depression
  • Extreme gradient boosting
  • Geographic positioning systems
  • Mobile phone
  • Semantic location

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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