August 23, 2013
Android App Tracks Link Between Mood And Location
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers at Princeton University have developed an Android app to determine when and where people are at their happiest. This information could later be used to ensure more accurate survey results and better understand particular demographics.
The study worked simply enough: After the subjects downloaded the app, they were asked periodically “How happy are you?” The app would then record their response and log their location. This painted a picture for the researchers of how environment can effect one’s mood.
Some of the researchers even said the study was conducted more in an attempt to better understand how to collect data via smartphone, as surveys conducted in person or over a landline can be difficult to complete. Collecting survey responses in the moment means that participants give their most accurate answers, far better than asking them to fill out a paper survey which they may leave and return to hours or even days later. The results from their study have been recorded and published in the June issue of the journal Demography.
After creating the Android app, the researchers asked people from all over the world to download it and participate in the study. In the end, 270 people from 13 different countries volunteered to be occasionally asked the question “How happy are you?” The volunteers also agreed to let the app record their location which was either determined by GPS or cell towers.
When asked about their happiness the survey respondents were asked to give an answer based on a 0 − 5 scale. By linking emotional responses and location data, the Princeton researchers hope to find the best time and place to ask people to participate in a survey. Often surveys can tie a person to one specific place — a census tract — even though the respondents might not find themselves there frequently.
“People spend a significant amount of time outside their census tracks,” explained lead author John Palmer, a graduate student in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “If we want to get more precise findings of contextual measurements we need to use techniques like this.”
Though the Princeton researchers developed app asked participants to rate their happiness on a scale, Palmer says the study is not at a point where he can make generalizations about a person’s environment and their mood. Instead he’s much more comfortable exploring how surveys can be conducted via smartphone app.
“I’d be hesitant to try to extend our substantive findings beyond those people who volunteered,” Palmer said in a press released.
This doesn’t mean they didn’t notice some trends, however. Palmer cautiously noted that men more often reported higher levels of happiness when they were further away from their home. Women, on the other hand, were generally stable and did not report being any more or less happy when away from their home.
“One of the limitations of the study is that it is not representative of all people,” said Palmer, noting that the survey pool was stocked with people who both used the Internet and owned smartphones. Furthermore, Palmer wondered if only happy people were willing to download an app and answer questions about their mood.