Cell Phones Used to Measure Happiness
- August, 23, 2013 - 15:28
- Science news
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Scientists found new methods to use mobile phones to explore how one's environment influences one's sense of well-being.
In a study involving volunteers who agreed to provide information about their feelings and locations, the researchers at Princeton University found that cell phones can efficiently capture information that is otherwise difficult to record, given today's on-the-go lifestyle. This is important, according to the researchers, because feelings 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 was published in the June issue of 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. Census measurements tie people to specific areas -- the census tracts in which they live -- that are usually not the only areas that people actually frequent.
"People spend a significant amount of time outside their census tracks," John Palmer, a graduate student in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the paper's lead author said. "If we want to get more precise findings of contextual measurements we need to use techniques like this."
However, Palmer’s 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.