Experience Sampling Method (ESM)

Experience sampling is a systematic way of having participants provide samples of their ongoing behavior.

Three methods

Participants' reports are dependent (contingent) upon either a signal, pre-established intervals, or the ocurrence of some event.

Signal contingent

The participant is signaled with a beeper, cell phone call, or programmed watch at random times within a fixed time period (e.g., between 8 AM and 9 PM). At the signal, the participant records the behavior of interest (e.g., activity, location, mood, thoughts).

Example: The focus of this study(1) was home activity and school performance of Latino children. Researchers randomly selected eight 10 and 11-year olds from an ongoing longitudinal study. The children were paged randomly within a time block of 4 PM-6 PM on Monday to Saturday for 12 weeks. About 3 calls a day were made. The children received $.50 for each returned call. The fieldworker (on the phone) asked "What were you doing when the pager went off?" along with a few follow-up questions. The accumulated responses were subsequently coded into more general activity categories.

Interval contingent

Participant is assigned pre-set intervals for reporting events. For example, before going to bed at night, the participant fills out a checklist of the day's activities.

Event contingent

The event is determined by the research project, for example, migraine headache, or phoning a friend. The participant makes a record whenever the key event occurs. The recording of the event depends upon (is contingent) on its occurrence.

Advantages and disadvantages

On to summary

(1) Weisner, R., Ryan, G. W., Reese, L., Kroesen, K, Bernheimer, L, & Gallimore, R. (2001). Behavior sampling and ethnography: Complementary methods for understanding home-school connections among Latino immigrant families. Field Methods, 13(1), 20-46.