Methodological Issues of Quantifying Everyday Memory Phenomena With Paper and Electronic Diaries
Capturing life as it is lived is an important goal in psychology, and diary methods are commonly used for this purpose. They capture events near the time of their occurrence and are less prone to retrospective biases associated with questionnaire, interview and survey methods. However, participants in diary studies must remember to carry the diary with them, and find it convenient to make entries in timely fashion. New approaches, replacing paper diaries with technology (e.g. personal digital assistants), can overcome forgetting to make entries and retrospective filling of data. However, until recently technology had its own problems (e.g. unreliability and cost of devices, the need for training, biases of technical competence, etc.). The research described in this dissertation arose from the anticipation that the rapid, worldwide growth of smartphone ownership would overcome many of these limitations since participant-owned smartphone diaries can eliminate associated costs and facilitate increased rates of compliance. Six diary studies were conducted on two transient cognitive phenomena. Initially, a smartphone app was developed and compared with a paper diary in the study of involuntary autobiographical memories. Although participants in the smartphone-diary condition demonstrated significantly better compliance than those in the paper-diary condition by reliably carrying their smartphones, and promptly completing diary entries in the app, they recorded significantly fewer events than paper diary users. To test that this unexpected finding was not specific to involuntary autobiographical memories, the method was tested with everyday memory failures, and the same unexpected finding was obtained. Further studies manipulated the length of diary-keeping period and demonstrated a diary entry rate reduction effect with longer diary keeping periods, an effect seen in both paper- and participant-owned smartphone-diaries. For involuntary autobiographical memories, the effect was demonstrated by comparing 1-day and 7-day diaries, and also by using a 30-40 minutelong digital audio recording method. With everyday memory failures, the effect was demonstrated by comparing 7-day and 28-day diaries. The audio recording method was used to capture involuntary autobiographical memories while driving. It was also used on a campus walk and compared with a 1-day paper diary within-subjects, finding a higher rate of recording in the shorter period, and consistency of memory counts across two modes of recording. This novel audio-recording method facilitated much more detailed analysis of involuntary memory cues and chaining and enabled the evaluation of potential instances of priming. Finally, a telephone and postal-based diary study of everyday memory failures demonstrated the feasibility of recruitment and measurement of participants remotely, which can be particularly useful with older adults. Taken together, the results of this research make a significant methodological contribution to research on transient everyday cognitive phenomena by showing that (1) care is needed when using participant-owned smartphone diaries, (2) paper diaries may be more reliable than currently given credit, and (3) diary-recording periods can be substantially reduced without compromising the quantity and the quality of data obtained. In addition, results increase our theoretical understanding of two specific phenomena studied in this dissertation: involuntary autobiographical memories and everyday memory failures. The findings indicate that involuntary memories are much more frequent than previously thought, may represent a stable characteristic of a person and, in addition to immediately present cues, can be elicited by internal memory chaining process and more distant priming of events and thoughts. Finally, the absence of age effects in the frequency and nature of recorded everyday memory failures, together with significant negative age effects in laboratory tests of memory and cognition, is a novel finding that has significant implications for research on cognitive ageing.