Scientists Track Happiness with Cell Phones

Posted August 23rd, 2013 at 7:35 pm (UTC-4)

Jumping with happiness (Will Foster via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(Will Foster via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Every day it seems that people are coming up with new and innovative ways to use mobile devices like cell phones and smartphones.

Researchers at Princeton University are looking for new ways to measure a person’s sense of well-being with mobile devices.

To gain a better understanding of how cellphones and other mobile device can gauge our sense of happiness, the research team conducted a study that was published recently in the journal Demography.

To gather data for their study, the team created an application for mobile devices using the Android operating system.

Once the app was developed, the researchers invited people to download it and take part in their study. Over a three-week period, the research team was able to collect data from some 270 participants living in 13 countries.

Participants came not only from the United States, but also from other nations like Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Over the course of the study, participants received occasional text questions from the researchers that asked “How happy are you”? Along with recording their response, the app used the mobile device’s built-in GPS to keep track of the participant’s location.

The study participants were asked to rate their current state of happiness on a scale of zero to five.

A mobile phone with android applications (Rafe Blandford via Creative Commons/Flickr)

A mobile phone with android applications (Rafe Blandford via Creative Commons/Flickr)

As they gathered data from the information collected through the application, the researchers then were able to create and fine-tune new methods that could help provide a better understanding of how our surroundings can influence our emotional well-being.

The researchers learned that mobile devices can provide an effective way to quickly grab information that, because of today’s active lifestyle, can be difficult to record.

Being able to quickly and spontaneously grab this info was something the researchers felt was important. They said feelings and emotions that were recorded as they were happening were most likely to be more honest and precise than using other methods like writing down how they felt on a piece of paper after the fact.

The study’s authors said that the mobile phone data gathering method allowed them to get around some of the drawbacks of traditional surveying methods, such as those  conducted at people’s homes, which are only able to record reactions in one fixed location.  But, people today are constantly on the move and the mobile device method is able to keep frequent track of data no matter where a participant happens to be.

The researchers noted that the focus of their research at the time of the study’s publication was more on learning more about the capabilities of mobile devices as a way to collect data, rather than coming up with general conclusions regarding the link between a person’s surroundings and their overall happiness.

Not so happy (John Verive via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(John Verive via Creative Commons/Flickr)

However, the research team was able to come up with some preliminary results on their measurement of happiness.

They found males were more inclined to indicate that they were less happy when they were further away from home. However, distance from home didn’t play much of a role in determining just how happy the females were.

Back in April, scientists from the University of Vermont and the MITRE Corporation made news when they announced their new method of gauging happiness through what people were tweeting via the social networking website Twitter.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

3 responses to “Scientists Track Happiness with Cell Phones”

  1. […] simple, science-backed ways to boost happiness –•Scientists Track Happiness with Cell Phones – Voice of America (blog)•New Yorkers Hate Times Square, Despite Twitter Study On NYC ‘Happiness’ – […]

  2. Cranksy (USA) says:

    I glad to know that there may be a new tool to learn what the components of happiness are. It is plausible that the results will be more accurate if an individual is asked during an experience if he or she is happy. My bias though is that a person needs a certain degree of reflection to know if they are happy or not. By asking during an activity it will force the respondent to take a “time out,” and that could eliminate recall error and introduce reflection.

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