Evidence for the Feasibility of Person-Specific Ecological Momentary Assessment Across Diverse Populations and Study Designs

  • Peter D. Soyster University of California
  • Hannah G. Bosley University of California
  • Jonathan W. Reeves University of California
  • Allison D. Altman University of California
  • Aaron J. Fisher University of California
Keywords: Ecological momentary assessment, idiographic, feasibility


Clinical psychological science has seen an exciting shift toward the use of person-specific (idiographic) approaches to studying psychopathology and change in treatment at the level of the individual. One commonly used method in idiographic research is ecological momentary assessment (EMA). EMA offers a way to sample individuals intensively – often multiple times per day – as they go about their lives. While these methods offer benefits such as greater ecological validity and streamlined data collection, many share concerns about their feasibility across diverse clinical populations. To investigate the feasibility of using EMA to study psychological processes idiographically both in- and out of the context of therapy, the present study aggregated participants across seven studies spanning diverse clinical and community populations (N = 496), all of which utilized an idiographic EMA approach to study symptoms of psychopathology (e.g., PTSD, mood and anxiety, substance abuse). In a series of linear regression models, participant and study design characteristics were used to predict compliance with EMA surveys. Across study designs, we found that (1) participants were willing to report on symptoms and mechanisms relating to a wide range of psychopathological domains; (2) on average, participants completed 82.21% (SD = 16.34%) of all EMA surveys; and (3) compliance with EMA surveys was not significantly related to participant demographics, psychological diagnosis, personality characteristics, or most study characteristics (e.g., number of surveys per day). These findings suggest feasibility of idiographic EMA for collecting the data needed to understand psychopathology and change in treatment at the level of the individual.