Are retrospective assessments means of people’s experiences? Accounting for interpersonal and intrapersonal variability when comparing retrospective assessment data to ecological momentary assessment data.




Ecological Momentary Assessment, retrospective assessment, retrospective bias, interpersonal variability, intrapersonal variability, affect data


Retrospective Assessment (RA) scores are often found to be higher than the mean of Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) scores about a concurrent period. This difference is generally interpreted as bias towards salient experiences in RA. During RA participants are often asked to summarize their experiences in unspecific terms, leaving room for personal interpretation. As a result, participants may use various strategies to summarize their experiences. In this study, we reanalyzed an existing dataset (N = 92) using a repeated N = 1 approach. We assessed for each participant whether it was likely that their RA score was an approximation of the mean of their experiences as captured by their EMA scores. We found considerable interpersonal differences in the difference between EMA scores and RA scores, as well as some extreme cases. Furthermore, for a considerable part of the sample (n = 46 for positive affect, n = 56 for negative affect), we did not reject the null hypothesis that their RA score represented the mean of their experiences as captured by their EMA scores. We conclude that in its current unspecific form RA may facilitate bias, although not for everyone. Future studies may determine whether differences between RA and EMA are mitigated using more specific forms of RA, while acknowledging interindividual differences.