Experience sampling: Promises and pitfalls, strengths and weaknesses


Scollon, C. N., Kim-Prieto, C., & Diener, E. (2003). Experience sampling: Promises and pitfalls, strengths and weaknesses. Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Periodical on Subjective Well-Being, 4(1), 5-34.


The experience-sampling (ESM) technique is a method in which recording of feelings and activities is done on-line at the moment, either at randomly selected moments or at predetermined times. This method has the advantage of being able to not only assess people’s general feelings, but to link feelings with situations, times of day, and other circumstances. Thus, ESM provides a powerful way of moving beyond simple questions about who is “happy” and who is not, to more intricate questions about when and why people experience positive and negative feelings. Compared to retrospective reports of feelings, ESM is less influenced by memory biases. ESM also allows researchers to analyze the patterning and relationships of feelings as they unfold over time. Despite the strengths and promise of this method, there are also limitations. For example, the heavy demand placed on research participants means that the sample might be biased toward highly conscientious individuals, and repeatedly reporting one’s moods might itself influence feelings. How to analyze ESM data is discussed, including the issue of how to aggregate momentary feelings into global measures of the average subjective well-being of individuals.

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