MobileSens: A Ubiquitous Psychological Laboratory based on Mobile Device

MobileSens: A Ubiquitous Psychological Laboratory based on Mobile Device

Ang Li (Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China & School of Computer and Control, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China), He Li (The 6th Research Institute of China Electronics Corporation, Beijing, China), Rui Guo (The 6th Research Institute of China Electronics Corporation, Beijing, China) and Tingshao Zhu (Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China)
DOI: 10.4018/ijcbpl.2013040104


In psychological research, it is difficult to acquire unintrusive, real-time and objective data under real-life non-experimental scenario. This article proposes a system (MobileSens) for automatically recording user behavior on Android mobile device (e.g., turning on device, sending messages, and web surfing), and uploading data to web server through General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) for subsequent analysis. During testing, MobileSens runs smoothly and efficiently on both the smartphone and tablet computer. It indicates that, in the future, this method of data acquisition can improve the performance of conducting psychological research.
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Psychology refers to the study of human mental function and consequential behavioral outcome. Since mental function is invisible, external behavior indicator (i.e., behavioral sample) is perceived as its appropriate metric (Anastasi & Urbina, 1997). To some extent, the credibility of psychological measurement relies on the selected method for gathering behavioral data.

In psychology, self-report (e.g., paper-and-pencil survey) is the commonly used method for measuring human behavior (Domino & Domino, 2006). As it is difficult to acquire real-time, objective and non-biased behavioral data in non-experimental situation, self-report tends to increase respondent error, decrease ecological validity and make psychological measurement insensitive to the changing patterns of behavior over time (Buchanan & Smith, 1999; Carlbring et al., 2007). This reflects the long-standing dilemma in psychological research, that is, psychology attempts to examine human behavior directly, but psychologists have to use indirect measuring method. Therefore, quite a few psychologists advocate “a renewed commitment to including direct observation of behavior whenever possible” (Baumeister, Vohs, & Funder, 2007, pp.396-403) and propose “repeated sampling of subjects’ current behaviors and experiences in real time, in subjects’ natural environments” (Shiffman, Stone, & Hufford, 2008, pp. 1-32). It requires psychologists to work out an alternative method for gathering precise, objective, sustained behavioral data in real-life situation.

The emergence of mobile device gives an opportunity to contribute to the improvement of psychological research, because it is ubiquitous, unobtrusive, sensor-rich, and remotely accessible (Dufau, Dunabeitia, Moret-Tatay, et al., 2011; Kwok, 2009). With mobile device, it is convenient and efficient to gather behavioral data in non-experimental situation precisely, objectively, and sustainedly (Rachuri & Mascolo, 2011; Heron & Smith, 2010; Miller, 2012). During the past few years, mobile device (e.g., a smartphone or a tablet computer) becomes more and more popular. According to recent surveys by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in 2012, 25% of American adults own tablet computers (Rainie, 2012a) and 45% of American adults have smartphones (Rainie, 2012b). In China, the number of smartphone users in December 2012 is up to 420 million, which is 31% of national population (China Internet Network Information Center, 2013). Moreover, with the development of information technology, mobile device is also increasingly multifunctional. Take smartphone for example, it not only provides the basic communication function through calling or text-messaging, but also supplies with other service functions (e.g., web surfing, gaming, e-commercing, news and multimedia entertainment). In terms of its technological merits, popularization and diverse intelligent functions, mobile device seems to be an alternative method of gathering behavioral data in psychological research.

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