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Introduction

The Experience sampling method (ESM) or Ecological momentary assessment (EMA) is a research procedure employed to collect and study data concerning the daily activities of life. The ecological momentary assessment technique entails what people do, feel and think during their daily lives. It consists of documenting the systemic self-reports from a sample of individuals at various occasions during the waking hours of a normal day. The data retrieved helps in assessing the daily routine of the individuals, and their thinking patterns. Furthermore, the experience sampling method also compares the psychological states of different populations such as men, women, adolescents, adults, disturbed, and normal.

The EMA/ESM data collection is usually triggered by signals such as notifications from the Qolty application. The experience sampling method evaluates the experience, behavior, and moment to moment fluctuations in mental states in the daily life. In general, it demands the participants to complete an assessment usually in the form of short questionnaires repeatedly over a specific period.

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These questionnaires entail current mood, perceptions, cognitions, behaviors, and the description of the momentary context (location, company, activity). (Delespaul et al. 1995; Stone et al. 1994). As a whole, these assessments focus on the symptoms, adaptive functioning, and the overall well-being of the participants (Csikszentmihalyi et al. 2013).

EMA and Food Diaries

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History

Kurt Lewin (1935) was the first to advocate the need of the topology of daily activities i.e. the scientific study of the everyday life. He was of the opinion that by determining the psychological aspects of life, especially the intrapsychic aspects of existence, it would be easier to probe the thought and behavior domains of human beings. Unfortunately, Lewin did not have a valid analysis method for studying daily experience. Roger barker, P.V. Gump, and Herbert Wright devised an observational technique based on the behavioral approach that had creditable scientific support but neglected Lewin’s concern for the intrapsychic aspects of existence. Their observational technique was only useful in studying the public behavioral aspects and did not deem to observe the private life of the individuals.

The experience sampling method was originated with paper and pencil methods, usually through a diary that was returned to the investigator after the daily recording of activities throughout a week or a specified period of sampling. However, a single-page questionnaire technique was also employed that was mailed in daily and the postmark verified.

Diary techniques provided a reliable measure for probing the public and private lives of individuals. Early dairy studies by Bevans 1913, Altshuller 1923, and more sophisticated diary studies (Szalai et al. 1975; Robinson 1977) have provided valuable insight into the activities performed by individuals during their waking hours. For instance, Szalai et al. 1975 assessed that American and European adults spent far less time relaxing than adults across the globe. However, still, their focus was on the behavioral aspect neglecting the thought pattern and feelings of the individuals.

Despite the early success of experience sampling methods, the intrapsychic variables still needed to be evaluated in a noteworthy fashion. Afterward, personality research nurtured the development of psychometric procedures that used the conventional paper and pencil technique to probe the thoughts and feelings of humans. Although most psychometric studies endeavored to measure stable traits rather than daily experience, there was an increasing shift in determining the individual’s quality of life. However, the breakthrough came when Campbell 1976 investigated the various segments of normal existence.

Another methodological limitation of the experience sampling method was the people’s self-assessment based on recognition and recall. Evidence suggests that people cannot provide reliable assessment of intricate dimensions of their own personality or experiences if the data is not collected promptly (Yarmey 1979). This limitation was later overshadowed when the ecological momentary assessments were recorded in real-time. Also, one-time assessments were subjected to cultural and ethnic stereotypes, thereby providing unreliable data (Shweder 1975).

As far as the methodology is concerned, paper and pencil technique was evolved into the hand-held computer devices such as the PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistants). This technique also proved to be successful in overcoming the potential pitfalls of retrospective recall. The data was collected in a timely fashion, and the program itself records the exact time of data entry.

In the present smartphone-driven world, these conventional techniques have been outshone by the applications such as Qolty that makes Ecological momentary assessment simple and straightforward. The experience sampling methods are becoming more executable for multiple purposes and in multiple contexts. The application platform provides a robust and actionable approach to psychological science (Miller 212). Cohn et al. 2011 believed that these apps enhance compliance as they directly intervene in people’s lives promoting positive vibes. This application platform can revolutionize the entire scenario by recording the people’s activities of lives and thought patterns in the closest time possible. This technique makes Ecological momentary assessment way too easy and engaging as it was before; opening new avenues for researchers to design and implement new studies in a reliable fashion.

Conventionally, these assessments were administered through paper and pen method used in combination with pagers or electronic wristwatches (Delespaul et al. 1995). With the advancement in technology, electronic devices (PDA’s), and smartphone apps such as Qolty surpassed the traditional pen and paper technique. The surveys are usually short and completed within 1 to 2 minutes. The items are designed for prompt and easy data collection which usually comprise of open-ended questions, checklists or self-report Likert scales, and visual analog scales (Csikszentmihalyi et al. 2013).