Population and Experience Sampling Technology

The Right Technology for Your Experience Sampling Population

With the advent of mobile technology, experience sampling/ecological momentary assessment has taken a turn for the better. Whereas researchers had trouble with people back-filling data entries (i.e. they waited to the last minute to fill out information- they didn’t fill it out in the moment), mobile technology offered accountability and software process data (see Shiffman 2008).

However, there are, currently, several technology options to choose from. Such as, using a watch timer and paper/pencil, PDAs, text messaging, SMS messaging, and smartphone apps. However, how do you choose the right option? There are, honestly, several factors to consider. This blog will focus on how to choose the right technology for your population.

When choosing the technology for your population, there are, also, several factors to consider.

  1. Geographic location

Cell phones of some kind are owned by 90% of American adults and 64% of the population own smartphones.

Asian countries have even higher rates of population smartphone ownership than the US and Europe does, such as China (71%), Singapore (87%), and Australia (75%).

According to Pew Research center, 65% of Uganda’s population owns a cell phone of some kind. Out of 7 major African countries in 2014, average cell phone ownership was 83%- and smartphone ownership was about 25%.

So, looking at countries like Uganda, cell phones are definitely feasible, but it might be easier to just equip people with a timer watch and paper to account for 35% who do not own a cell phone. However, in some countries, such as Singapore, smartphones are nearly commonplace, and could be an obvious option.

  1. Age

In populations with high smartphone penetration, age differences in ownership are usually seen. For example, in America, The Pew Research Center found the following:

Age 18-29: 90% own cell phone, 86% own smartphone

Age 30-49: 87% own cell phone, 79% own smartphone

Age 50-64: 88% own cell phone, 54% own smartphone

Age 65-++: 74% own cell phone, 27% own smartphone

So we can see, using any mobile phone is probably good for any age group (as almost three quarters of each age group owns a cell phone). Smartphone applications might be best suited for young adults, but are not out of the question for adults over 50.

  1. Income

You might guess that individuals with higher income are more likely to have a mobile phone (and people with even higher income to have a smartphone), and you would be right.

For example, you might think that smartphones are not very prevalent in low-income populations in the United States.

According to the 2015 Pew Research Center Study,

Below $30k – 84% cell phone, 50% smartphone

$30- 49.999 – 90% cell phone, 71% smartphone

$50- 74,999 – 99% cell phone, 72% smartphone

Over $75k – 98% cell phone, 84% smartphone

With 84% of people with an income below $30,000, text-based ESM is a pretty safe bet. However, if you did want to try smartphone-based, that method would not be out of the question, either. Further, as smartphone sales continue to rise, a proportion over 50% is likely to be in the near future.

  1. Locale

The community in which your population lives may be an aspect to consider, too. For example, in America, Pew Research Center found,

Rural Areas– 88% cell phone, 52% smartphone

Suburban Areas – 92% cell phone, 66% smartphone

Urban Areas – 88% cell phone, 68% smartphone

Each of these communities has high prevalence of cell phones. However, rural and urban areas still have decently high smartphone penetration, and, again, could be candidates for using smartphones.


When starting an experience sampling study, you want to choose the best technology for your particular population. Things to consider are:

  1. Geographic location
  2. Age
  3. Income
  4. Locale

Cell phones and smartphone are becoming ubiquitous around the globe, and the prevalence continues to rise. Choosing the right technology depends on the demographics of your population, and how feasible it is to use your desired technology.

To learn more about smartphone app-based experience sampling click here. Or, if you think smartphone-based ESM is right for your, click here to see software that might help get you started.


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