Add another “app” to our cell phone menu as researchers investigate the manner by which the environment influences our pursuit of happiness.
In this case, the ubiquity of cell phones can make them into a research tool.
Investigators from Princeton University are developing ways to use mobile phones to explore how one’s environment influences one’s sense of well-being.
In one study, researchers found that cell phones can efficiently capture information that is otherwise difficult to record, given today’s on-the-go lifestyle.
Experts believe use of cell phones will improve the documentation of an individual’s feelings because emotions recorded “in the moment” are likely to be more accurate than feelings jotted down after the fact.
To conduct the study, the team created an application for the Android operating system that documented each person’s location and periodically sent the question, “How happy are you?”
The investigators invited people to download the app, and over a three-week period, collected information from 270 volunteers in 13 countries who were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of 0 to 5.
From the information collected, the researchers created and fine-tuned methods that could lead to a better understanding of how our environments influence emotional well-being.
The study has been published in the journal Demography.
The mobile phone method could help overcome some of the limitations that come with surveys conducted at people’s homes, according to the researchers.
For example, census measurements link an individual’s feelings to the specific area where they live, although in reality, people go to a variety of locales when performing their normal activities.
“People spend a significant amount of time outside their census tracks,” said John Palmer, a graduate student in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the paper’s lead author. “If we want to get more precise findings of contextual measurements we need to use techniques like this.”
Though many of the volunteers lived in the United States, some were in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Palmer noted that the team’s focus at this stage was not on generalizable conclusions about the link between environment and happiness, but rather on learning more about the mobile phone’s capabilities for data collection. “I’d be hesitant to try to extend our substantive findings beyond those people who volunteered.” he said.
However, the team did obtain some preliminary results regarding happiness: For example, male subjects tended to describe themselves as less happy when they were further from their homes, whereas females did not demonstrate a particular trend with regards to emotions and distance.
“One of the limitations of the study is that it is not representative of all people,” Palmer said. Participants had to have smart phones and be Internet users. It is also possible that people who were happy were more likely to respond to the survey.
However, Palmer said, the study demonstrates the potential for mobile phone research to reach groups of people that may be less accessible by paper surveys or interviews.
Source: Princeton University