In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Research Methods for Studying Daily Life

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Study Designs and Sampling Methods
  • Advantages and Limitations of Daily-Life Methods
  • Sampling and Measurement Considerations
  • Technology/Equipment for Daily Assessments
  • Additional Considerations and Future Directions

Psychology Research Methods for Studying Daily Life
Carla Arredondo, Gloria Luong
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0243


Methods for studying daily life have blossomed since the 1980s. Although these methods have been around for years, their popularity is always increasing as technological innovations have made the use of these methods easier and more reliable to employ. Methods for studying daily life typically include taking repeated real-time assessments of individual behaviors, physiology, and/or psychological experiences, over the course of an individual’s everyday life. These methods include experience sampling methodology (ESM), ecological momentary assessments (EMA), ambulatory assessments (AA), and daily diary or day reconstruction methods. All of these methods include repeated or detailed assessments of daily- life experiences but vary in terms of the frequency of assessments, technological tools to administer assessments, and timing of assessments (e.g., real time assessments versus retrospective recall). Given that these methods are intended to capture observations of psychological experiences in daily life, they require careful consideration of study design, measurements, and assessment tools. This article will provide a general overview of daily-life methods, including discussions about the different study designs and sampling methods. Furthermore, it will describe the advantages and limitations of using these methods along with examples of empirical studies that illustrate the usefulness of these techniques. It will also provide information on important considerations for sampling and measuring experiences in daily life and provide examples of the technology available for daily-life assessments.

General Overviews

Mehl and Conner 2012 is an all-encompassing review that discusses theoretical, methodological, and statistical considerations for conducting daily-life studies. Conner and Lehman 2012 focuses on providing practical advice for designing and conducting daily-life studies, while Stone and Shiffman 2002 outlines standardized reporting guidelines for researchers and provides recommendations for the information that should be included in study reports. Broderick, et al. 2003 and Green, et al. 2006 discuss issues of participant compliance and provide examples of how to monitor and improve participant compliance in daily-life studies. Barta, et al. 2012 discusses issues of measurement reactivity, whereby measurements bring about changes in study participants, and Conner and Reid 2012 is an example of testing for measurement reactivity. Lastly, Bolger, et al. 2003 provides an outline of areas of research that will need further investigation as intensive longitudinal designs become more prevalent.

  • Barta, W. D., H. Tennen, and M. D. Litt. 2012. Measurement reactivity in diary research. In Handbook of research methods for studying daily life. Edited by M. R. Mehl and T. S. Conner, 89–107. New York: Guildford Press.

    Reviews factors that can affect measurement of constructs in daily-life studies. Discusses some of the sources of measurement reactivity, such as social desirability of the construct under investigation and conditions that influence reactivity of self-monitoring, such as participant motivation. They conclude with a review of studies demonstrating mixed findings on measurement reactivity and recommend that more daily-life studies explicitly test for measurement reactivity.

  • Bolger, N., A. Davis, and E. Rafaeli. 2003. Diary methods: Capturing life as it is lived. Annual Review of Psychology 54:579–616.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145030

    Discusses areas of research that will need further consideration as intensive longitudinal study designs become more common. The article also discusses using technology to monitor objective measurements, such as heart rate, in conjunction with subjective experiences (i.e., mood). Also covered is the need to develop and test measures that can capture within-person changes and ideas for formulating research questions to further understand how these processes unfold in everyday life.

  • Broderick, J., J. Schwartz, S. Shiffman, M. Hufford, and A. Stone. 2003. Signaling does not adequately improve diary compliance. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 26:139–148.

    DOI: 10.1207/S15324796ABM2602_06

    Tested the extent to which signaling participants, via a programmed wristwatch, improved compliance in a twenty-four-day experience sampling study of individuals with chronic pain. The study used photo sensors to detect when diaries were opened and closed by participants to make an entry, and this information was cross-referenced with participant self-reports of compliance.

  • Conner, T. S., and B. Lehman. 2012. Getting started: Launching a study in daily life. In Handbook of research methods for studying daily life. Edited by M. R. Mehl and T. S. Conner, 89–107. New York: Guildford Press.

    Provides an overview of important considerations for designing and conducting daily-life studies. It begins with preliminary considerations, such as participant characteristics, and moves into sampling strategies and platforms. Practical concerns, such as ethical considerations, are also discussed.

  • Conner, T. S., and K. A. Reid. 2012. Effects of intensive mobile happiness reporting in daily life. Social Psychology and Personality Science 3:315–323.

    DOI: 10.1177/1948550611419677

    An example of an experience sampling study that explicitly tested measurement reactivity. The study examined the extent to which there was measurement reactivity in a measure of happiness. Results demonstrate that overall the measure in question did not show reactivity. However, participant characteristics, such as depressive symptoms and trait neuroticism, contributed to measurement reactivity.

  • Green, A. S., E. Rafaeli, N. Bolger, P. E. Shrout, and H. T. Reis. 2006. Paper or plastic? Data equivalence in paper and electronic diaries. Psychological Methods 11:87–105.

    DOI: 10.1037/1082-989X.11.1.87

    See this article for a brief review of concerns regarding participant compliance in diary studies (pp. 87–88). The article also discusses other issues such as important considerations for improving the data quality from diary studies, recommendations for defining compliance, and individual differences in compliance (pp. 102–104). The article concludes with recommendations for improving diary studies.

  • Mehl, M. R., and T. S. Conner, eds. 2012. Handbook of research methods for studying daily life. New York: Guildford Press.

    This book provides an all-encompassing review for researchers conducting daily-life studies. It is a resource for conducting high-quality research and provides guidelines to select and implement methods for studying daily life. The book begins with fundamental theoretical and methodological considerations for conducting these studies and then reviews statistical techniques that can be used to analyze these data. The book concludes with examples of these methods and techniques across different sub-fields in psychology.

  • Stone, A. A., and S. Shiffman. 2002 Capturing momentary, self-report data: A proposal for reporting guidelines. Guidelines for Momentary Research 24:236–243.

    Proposes criteria for collecting momentary data. Argues that strategies for sampling daily-life data should be based on theoretical, statistical, and practical considerations of the phenomena in question that allow researchers to adequately collect data for hypothesis testing. The article also provides recommendations on reporting guidelines to facilitate study replication.

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