There are many complexities and difficulties inherent in reliably and validly measuring psychological and behavioral constructs. This chapter discusses a collection of techniques for capturing peoples' self-reports, including private, subjective states; behaviors emitted by an individual; and qualities of the environment. It addresses the measurement of these data in individuals' normal environments and at the moment that the reported construct has occurred to achieve ecological validity and to avoid biases associated with recall.
The vast majority of data collected by behavioral scientists stem from self-reports (Stone, Turkkan, Bachrach, Jobe, Kurtzman, & Cain, 2000). There are two important reasons for this. First, certain kinds of information are only accessible by asking individuals for it; examples include pain, fatigue, malaise, depression, affect, and various symptoms. Although there are other manifestations of these states that are observable to others (e.g., facial expressions associated with pain or depression), it is commonly accepted that self-reports represent the gold standard for these phenomena. Second, there is a pragmatic reason for using self-reports even when valid alternatives exist, with respect to the additional expense of obtaining nonself-reported data. While it is relatively easy to ask an individual about significant major life events, it is time consuming and expensive to collect the same data by examining archival records or by conducting interviews with others familiar with the individual. Thus, self-reports remain the convenient way to gather a wide variety of information about people and their environments, both past and present.
This chapter reviews potential problems for collecting self-reports with commonly used questionnaire and interview techniques. We briefly cover the most salient threats to the validity of self-reports, especially reports that involve significant recall. We then introduce the concept of diary and momentary approaches to the collection of self-report data. Details of the primary methodological features of momentary designs are discussed, and methods for developing such protocols are presented. We also discuss recent developments on the use of paper versus electronic diaries, new data on the acceptability and validity of the methodology, standards for reporting momentary studies, challenges in the analysis of momentary data, and clinical and research applications of this methodology.
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