A primary reason for the development of momentary methods was the scientific evidence and clinical anecdotes suggesting the inaccuracies in people's recalled reports of events (this topic will be covered in detail below). A second reason was the importance of moving out of the laboratory and into the real world, termed ecological validity (Brunswik, 1949). This concept grew from the notion that individuals may act differently in artificial situations than in the circumstances they typically inhabit. A related issue is that reports about past behaviors or feelings are likely to be influenced by immediate circumstances. Therefore, it is important that the local environment is as representative of the individual's usual environment as possible.
Descriptive time budgeting studies also encouraged the movement to momentary studies (Chappel, 1970; Monroe & Monroe, 1971; Szalai, 1966). These investigations examined how individuals allocated their time to various activities, and the investigations ultimately moved to national and cross-cultural studies. Similarly, other behavioral researchers made detailed observations of children throughout the day (Barker, 1978). Research on circadian rhythms also supported the notion that intensive study of within-day phenomena could yield valuable insights in human and animal behavior (Kleitman, 1963). Finally, the development of devices that allowed ambulatory measurement of physiological variables (e.g., blood pressure and heart rate) demonstrated the advances that could be achieved by using a more detailed approach to measurement in the field (vanEgeren & Madarasmi, 1992).
Diaries completed at the end of a day (EOD) provided a solution to the issues raised above. This is an adequate strategy for collecting self-report data as long as the variable studied is not likely to be biased by recall that occurred over the 12- to 18hour period. Many behaviors may fall into this category; it is hard to imagine that an individual would have difficulty remembering a major argument with a spouse or would distort the occurrence of a severe asthma attack. Notice, however, that these examples include an adjective that enhances the saliency of the occurrence ("major," "severe"), and reassures the reader that recall of the event was manageable. However, when mundane events are considered (e.g., number micturitions, if teeth were brushed, number of interactions with coworkers), the accuracy of daily recall becomes more suspect. Moving to less tangible occurrences, like changes in affect or stress, occurrence of particular thoughts, or evaluations of various events (e.g., how good was it?), however, raises concerns about recall even over a day. It is easy to imagine that mood at the time of recall could affect the recall of mood earlier that morning or could affect the evaluation of an event early in the afternoon (Stone, Hedges, Neale, & Satin, 1985). The detailed study of cycles through the day is also quite difficult with an EOD
diary protocol given the demands on memory to generate such a continuous record of many hours.
A large variety of phenomena have been investigated with momentary data capture techniques, and a few examples provide a "flavor" of these topics. Pain is an experience quite variable, and clinicians and researchers recognized this phenomenon long ago. Therefore, diary techniques have been extensively used in this area, including within-day diaries (Affleck, Tennen, Urrows, & Higgins, 1991; Jamison et al., 2002; Peters et al., 2000). Stress and coping processes were initially studied with trait-like and recall-based questionnaires, but to appreciate the dynamic interplay among these variables, diary methods have been extensively used (Affleck, Tennen, Urrows, & Higgins, 1992; Baba, Ozawa, Nakamoto, Ueshima, & Omae, 1990; Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler, & Schilling, 1989; Bolger & Eckenrode, 1987; Marco & Suls, 1993; Suls, Wan, & Blanchard, 1994). Diary methods also have a long history in medical research where they are used to measure symptom levels and patterns over time (Lehrer, Isenberg, & Hochron, 1993; Rand, Hoon, Massey, & Johnson, 1990; Roghmann & Haggerty, 1973). Finally, real-time data collection methods have been used in association with biological measurements, like blood pressure (Gerber, Schwartz, & Pickering, 1998), Cortisol (Nicolson, 1991; Smyth et al., 1997), and immune function (Stone, 1987). These are only a small sample of the topics that have been studied with diaries.
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If you suffer with asthma, you will no doubt be familiar with the uncomfortable sensations as your bronchial tubes begin to narrow and your muscles around them start to tighten. A sticky mucus known as phlegm begins to produce and increase within your bronchial tubes and you begin to wheeze, cough and struggle to breathe.