The experience sampling method (ESM) is often used in research, and promoted for clinical use, with the rationale that it avoids problematic inaccuracies and biases that attend retrospective measures of mental phenomena. Research suggests that averaged scores from ESM data are more accurate than retrospective ratings. However, it is not known how well individuals can remember information about momentary (rather than averaged) mental states, nor how accurately they estimate the dynamic covariation of these states. Individual differences in retrospective accuracy are also poorly understood. In two pre-registered studies, we examined differences between retrospective memory for stress and self-esteem and data gathered via experience sampling and examined whether alexithymia predicted accuracy. Results of both studies revealed substantial discrepancies between retrospective ratings and ESM ratings, especially for momentary states and their covariation. Alexithymia was positively related to recognition of stress means and variability but unrelated to recall of either stress or self-esteem, their variability, or their covariation. These findings suggest that experience sampling may be more useful than self-report when precise information is needed about the timing of mental states and dynamics among them.
Ellison, W. D., Trahan, A. C., Pinzon, J. C., Gillespie, M. E., Simmons, L. M., & King, K. Y. (2020). For whom, and for what, is experience sampling more accurate than retrospective report? Personality and Individual Differences, 163, 110071. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2020.110071
Personality and Individual Differences