Using Experience Sampling for Well-Being Research

Dr. Ed Diener
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In doing research on well-being, researchers tend to study who are happy and who are not. Experience sampling allowed us to ask a whole new set of questions, such as: When are people happy? In what situations are people happy? Under what conditions do people thrive? Experience sampling with real-time data collection enabled us to look at the emotion variations within people, the patterns of emotions across time and days, and the situational elements (e.g., where are they, who are they with, what are they doing) that play a role in these variations. Beyond doing research on well-being and emotions, experience sampling allowed us to analyze how much people were involved in various types of activities (e.g., studying, sports), and what they were thinking and feeling when they were performing these activities. This type of real-time data collection allowed us to gain a rich tapestry of precise and in-the-moment insights into participant well-being. This type of research and level of insight has applications in employee engagement, corporate wellness, research and strategy firms, and beyond.

In my laboratory we started using experience sampling to study well-being back in 1981, using very primitive methods compared to a real-time data collection tool like ExpiWell. Experience sampling is so valuable because it gets around many of the memory biases and other potential biases that can occur with a single online retrospective self-report survey, and uncovers information that simply cannot be obtained by other methods, like video, photo, and geolocation. If you want to know what people are doing, thinking, and feeling across time in the natural situations they encounter, there is no better method than experience sampling! We discovered many new fascinating things about well-being, for example, how much it varies across situations and over time.

This method provided us new scientific insights. For example, we found that some people's moods fluctuated wildly, whereas other people's moods tend to be remarkably stable over time. We found that people's whose moods fluctuate a lot tend to be lower in overall well-being, such as life satisfaction. We also discovered that most people have a weekly cycle in their moods, which start low on Mondays and then slowly increase through the week, and then head up on the weekends. Even workaholics showed the "Thank God it's Friday" syndrome. Besides the patterns we observed in people's moods we found some very interesting associations. For instance, when people were in a good mood they felt more sociable, and this was true for virtually everyone.

An important insight we garnered from experience-sampling is how people may misremember their moods. When people are asked how happy they are in general, they may misremember compared to what we have uncovered about their moods from experience-sampling. Some happy individuals may recall that they are in general happier than their experience-sampling measure indicates they really were. And an important discovery is that these memories may guide future behavior even more than the actual experience. Further, in some cultures, where happiness is valued more highly, individuals may tend to remember being happier than they were. Thus, experience-sampling has helped us not only to go beyond the question of "who is happy." We now also know something more about when people are happy, and about recalled versus on-line average momentary happiness.

Over my 40-year history conducting experience sampling studies I have administered countless approaches for conducting this type of valuable research. I have been fortunate to partner with ExpiWell as a data collection tool and have found the platform user friendly (which is always important for researchers) and provides best-in-class features for conducting experience sampling work. Above all, ExpiWell provides me and my team a single platform where I can create well-being protocols and schedule precisely when I want participants to answer these protocols, and monitor their responses.

I have found that ExpiWell allows great flexibility in how and what data are collected, and I am confident in the knowledge that ExpiWell will provide valuable data to researchers who are interested in understanding a wide variety of behaviors. ExpiWell has been an invaluable platform for me and my team and serves to be a significant technology solution for anyone interested in making an impact on well-being research and practice.

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