Scientists develop tool as part of everyday laughter study

Scientists at Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Krems, Austria (KL Krems) are currently developing a tool that collects psychological data as part of a study of laughter in everyday life.

The software for the wearable could optimise the collection of data in psychological studies. The device will be tested on around 150 subjects as part of an investigation entitled ‘Laughter in everyday life’. The advantage of the wearable – in this case an armband – is that it can be quickly accessed to record data and is simple to operate. These advantages will come into their own in psychological studies that use the experience sampling method, where subjects are required to record everyday experiences. In the past, written records or smartphones have been used for data collection, but this can result in distortion of the findings.

The experience sampling method (ESM), which is commonly used in psychological studies, is usually based on personal observations by the subjects themselves. They keep diaries that record their actions, thoughts, feelings and so on. Previously, people would keep handwritten records, but today smartphone apps are often used.

Prof. Stefan Stieger of KL Krems’ Department of Psychology and Psychodynamics has carried out several studies using this approach in recent years. Although this enables researchers to collect large quantities of data quickly and precisely, use of the app also interferes with the behaviour being recorded: take out the phone, unlock it, open the app, carry out the required activity, close the app, turn off the phone and put it away again.

Prof. Stieger said: “For instance, if you want to study smoking habits and the participants are requested to record their immediate craving for a cigarette in an app, because of that – although this is an exaggeration – they don’t fancy a cigarette any more. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if people just had to press a button on their wrist?”

Stieger and his team are now programming such a wearable using a freely available development board. Although plenty of devices are available for sports to measure body functions such as blood pressure, a wearable for ESM studies needs to work differently.

Stieger added: “It has to be usable for the full range of scientific purposes, and this means it will be an open source solution. So it can be programmed to perform different functions, depending on the study protocol.”

The devices need to operate autonomously, save data independently of a network, and have low power consumption. They also have to be cheap, windproof, waterproof and shock-resistant.

The team has already programmed some prototypes, so testing can now begin. To do this, Prof. Stieger will focus on laughter. He has already analysed this topic as part of an ESM study that employed smartphones for data collection.

Stieger explained: “A large proportion of the participants – about 30% – also complained that they didn’t have their smartphones with them all the time wherever they went, and that it was simply annoying to take out their phone and record the time they laughed when they were socialising with a group of people. Clicking a button on a discreet wearable on their wrist would have been far easier.”

In the ‘Laughter in everyday life’ project Stieger will carry out a comparative study of individuals who will again use a smartphone app. According to his hypothesis, this comparison will show that the group of subjects with wearables supply more accurate data, meaning that the form of data collection influences the findings.


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