Participant characteristics you want (and don’t want) for experience sampling studies

Participant characteristics for experience sampling/ ecological momentary assessment study

As you start planning your study, you’ll want to think about your participants, and whether Experience Sampling/Ecological Momentary Assessment is right for them. Here are a few characteristics you want (and don’t want) in experience sampling studies.

  1. Strong language skills

Most ESM questions are text-based. You want your participant to be able to read and understand what you are asking them.

While this qualification many seem rather obvious, it rules out certain types of people, such as young children, sight impaired, and the functionally illiterate.

  1. (Rather) Conscientious

If you provide equipment to your participants (such as a PDA, booklet, or wearable sensors), you want your participants to be able to

  • Care for/keep track of: you don’t want any expensive equipment broken or lost.
  • Use it regularly: you simply want participants to answer questions on a regular basis. Of course, good compliance is important to any research study.
  • Use it properly: you want the right data
  1. Comfortable with technology

Although this issue is becoming less prevalent, some people are more technologically savvy than others.

This is important because your compliance and responses may be related to how comfortable your participants are with their equipment.

So, you might not want to use higher-tech or complicated equipment with the elderly, and paper/pencil and PDA methods might not be engaging or convenient enough for adolescents.

  1. Self-awareness

For certain studies, you might have participants select an option from a list, or rate a mood on a scale. These both require “self-coding” (rather than you coding text response).

Be sure you think your participants can answer these questions. And be sure that you explain criteria for them, allowing them to answer as accurately as possible.

  1. Appropriate Schedule/ Time

Answering questions throughout the day takes some time. So you don’t want to recruit people who have really hectic schedules, and in which answering and ESM form might be constantly inappropriate (think a businessman in a meeting or a surgeon stopping to answer a text).

Of course, there are parts of everyone’s day where answering and EMA question might be inappropriate or inconvenient. And most questions can be skipped or delayed with the right technology. But you do want to consider people who ESM might not be doable for them.

Now to get started.

As you think about your study, consider about the kinds of people that will do well in your study. And be sure that, no matter your audience, you try to facilitate an experience that will help the participants thrive.


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

Hektner, J. M., Schmidt, J. A., Csikszentmihalyi, M. 2007. Experience Sampling Method: Measuring the Quality of Everyday Life. (Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks).


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