Experience Sampling Variables to Study

Experience sampling variables

When starting an experience sampling study, it is important to consider the different types of variables you can study. And how data should be gathered. This blog addresses these two issues, and hopefully can help as you plan studies for the future.

This blog was adapted from the chapter, “Getting Started: Launching a Study in Daily Life” in The Handbook of Research Methods for Studying Daily Life.

  1. Experience

This type studies a person’s – well – experience. What is a person feeling, thinking, or perceiving?

Experience can be sampled either through self-report- the person answers questions- or through passive recording. You could have people answer experience sampling questions through text, a smartphone app, or paper and pencil for self-report methods. Passive recording could include recording conversations and analyzing experience from the person’s language use.

  1. Behavior

This addresses how a person acts. What is a person doing?

This question can be answered through self-report, again, through text message, smartphone app, or paper diaries. Aspects such as physical activity can be monitored through sensors, such as accelerometers, or through GPS when measured passively, or even through the observations and reports of others.

  1. Physiology

You can also measure physiological aspects of your question. What is happening on a biological level?

Self-report methods could include a participant repeatedly taking, and recording, his or her blood glucose. Passive measures could include heart rate or temperature monitors.

  1. Or Some Combination?

Of course, you are not limited to any of these by themselves- you can combine them in any way. Combining different ways of gathering data can lead to new and unexpected discoveries. Have fun!

Here is a chart summarizing the different variables that are available:

Experience Behavior Physiology
Question What is a person feeling, thinking, or perceiving? What is the person doing? What physio. activity is happening?
Examples Emotions, perception, pain Talking, location, eating Heart rate, hormone levels
Self-report Experience sampling – texting, diary, smartphone app Signal/interval/event contingent sampling Person does the physiological test
Non-self-report Auditory recording, etc. Accelerometers, GPS, auditory recorders Sensors for blood pressure, heart rate, temperature

Chart adapted from Mehl and Conner, (2011).


Conner, TS. and Lehman, B. 2007. “Getting Started: Launching a Study in Daily Life” in The Handbook of Research Methods for Studying Daily Life ed. Mehl, M.R., and Conner, T.S. (Guilford Press: New York).


Want to Learn More?