Stanford University

Using Smartphones to Collect Behavioral Data in Psychological Science: Opportunities, Practical Considerations, and Challenges

Harari, G. M., Lane, N., Wang, R., Crosier, B., Campbell, A. T., & Gosling, S. D. (2016). Using Smartphones to Collect Behavioral Data in Psychological Science: Opportunities, Practical Considerations, and Challenges. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11, 838-854.

Abstract

Smartphones now offer the promise of collecting behavioral data unobtrusively, in situ, as it unfolds in the course of daily life. Data can be collected from the onboard sensors and other phone logs embedded in today’s off-the-shelf smartphone devices. These data permit fine-grained, continuous collection of people’s social interactions (e.g., speaking rates in conversation, size of social groups, calls, and text messages), daily activities (e.g., physical activity and sleep), and mobility patterns (e.g., frequency and duration of time spent at various locations). In this article, we have drawn on the lessons from the first wave of smartphone-sensing research to highlight areas of opportunity for psychological research, present practical considerations for designing smartphone studies, and discuss the ongoing methodological and ethical challenges associated with research in this domain. It is our hope that these practical guidelines will facilitate the use of smartphones as a behavioral observation tool in psychological science.