|Mobile computation; Smartphones; Big data; Research
|Smartphones: A Game Changer for Psychological Research
|In the Smartphone Psychology Manifesto,  posed a profound
question: What if psychology had no history, as if it were invented
today and had no methodological inertia, what research methods
would we use for data collection? Highly likely, the answer would be
smartphones. As technology continues to advance and smartphones
continue to grow in popularity, we argue that smartphones have
rapidly evolved as a suitable tool for psychological research. In this
editorial, we will first briefly introduce the technological and social
features possessed by smartphones that are ideal for psychology
research. Then we distinguish two approaches to use smartphones for
research, highlighting the external and internal validity of each
approach. We further discuss computer skills and analysis methods
needed for research with smartphones.
|The Technological and Social Features of Smartphones
|Although smartphones are primarily designed for daily life activities
(e.g., communication, navigation, personal computing, etc.), its
technological and social features make it surprisingly suitable for
conducting psychological research. First of all, smartphones carry
many sensors, such as proximity, gyroscope, accelerometer,
orientation sensors, etc., which allow for automatically recording
users’ various personal and social behaviors. In addition, its
programmable functionality allows for adding external sensors and
program applications (i.e., “Apps”) customized for particular research
projects, which is important for data collection in psychological
research. These features can record a large variety of behavioral data
with real-time and precise-location information at a high sampling
|More importantly, more and more people carry smartphones every
day and increasingly rely on them for daily activities. According to
comScore, as many as 184 million (i.e., 75.8%) people in the U.S.
owned a smartphone as of January 2015 . More than 5 billion people worldwide are expected to use smartphones in about ten years
 Such popularity of smartphones enables researchers to collect
psychological data from extremely large populations, directly
addressing the small-sample methodological problems that
psychologists had faced decades before.
|Two Approaches of Using Smartphones in Research
|For the purpose of organization and the convenience of examining
its validity, we distinguish two important approaches of collecting data
using smartphones: naturalistic observation and experimental design.
|Naturalistic observation: The daily use of smartphones generates
unobtrusive and big data, most which reflect essential social and
psychological behaviors. By analyzing these naturalistically observed
behaviors, we gain meaningful insight into the psychological state of
users. For example, the automatic logs of phone communications (e.g.,
who, when, how long of calls and text messages) shed important
information about the users . Despite the privacy concern of
smartphone data, many users still entirely or partially share their
information through social media applications like Twitter, Facebook,
LinkedIn, etc; Users voluntarily log into such Apps and share their
thoughts, feelings, and daily activities. Data generated by this approach
is not only naturalistic and unobtrusive, but also big: large in volume,
fast in velocity, complex in variety, and low in cost. This approach
yields high external validity, especially ecological validity.
|Rigorous experimental design: The naturalistic approach may not
necessarily meet research needs; psychologists can also use
smartphones to collect data through rigorous experiment design. In
such cases, smartphones are a versatile data collection tool that can be
used for field or laboratory studies. Participants may be recruited
online and are requested to install specific Apps and even attach
external sensors such as EEG  for collecting various types of
behavioral data. Experience Sampling Method [5,6] can also be
incorporated in this approach. This approach may not necessarily be
able to access a population as large as the naturalistic observation
approach, but because of its rigorous research design, it is expected to
yield high internal validity while still maintain decent external validity
as it does not impose virtual settings as typical laboratory settings do.
|Computer Skills and Analysis Methods
|Using smartphones for psychological research does have
limitations. The smartphone-based research requires a set of computer
skills and analysis methods to deal with the data collection and
analysis. For the data collection, basic computer programming is
required to develop smartphone Apps. In addition, more advanced
analysis methods are needed to analyze such data, including text
analysis , social network analysis , time series analysis ,
geodata analysis, and so on [10-12].
|The history of psychology has witnessed the power of innovation of
data collection methods in advancing the research and improving our
knowledge. With the rapidly ubiquitous use of smartphones, we
believe smartphones are revolutionizing psychological research
through their powerful way of data collection, which in turn fosters
new paradigms in psychology research. It is our hope that this editorial
will bring more attention to this innovative method of data collection
and eventually lead to more cutting-edge findings.
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