Stanford University

Smartphones in Personal Informatics: A Framework for Self-Tracking Research with Mobile Sensing

Vaid, S. S. & Harari, G. M. (2019). Smartphones in Personal Informatics: A Framework for Self-Tracking Research with Mobile Sensing. In: Baumeister H., Montag C. (eds) Digital Phenotyping and Mobile Sensing. Studies in Neuroscience, Psychology and Behavioral Economics, pp 65-92.


Recent years have seen a growth in the spread of digital technologies for self-tracking and personal informatics. Smartphones‚ in particular, stand out as being an ideal self-tracking technology that permits both active logging (via self-reports) and passive tracking of information (via phone logs and mobile sensors). In this chapter, we present the results of a literature review of smartphone-based personal informatics studies across three different disciplinary databases (computer science, psychology, and communication). In doing so, we propose a conceptual framework for organizing the smartphone-based personal informatics literature. Our framework situates self-tracking studies based on their substantive focus across two domains: (1) the measurement domain (whether the study uses subjective or objective data) and (2) the outcome of interest domain (whether the study aims to promote insight or change in physical and/or mental characteristics). We use this framework to identify and discuss research trends and gaps in the literature. For example, most research has been concentrated on tracking of objective measurements to change either physical or mental characteristics, while less research used subjective measures to study a physical outcome of interest. We conclude by pointing to promising future directions for research on self-tracking and personal informatics and emphasize the need for a greater appreciation of individual differences in future self-tracking research.