“A Survey Method for Characterizing Daily Life
Experience: The Day Reconstruction Method”
By Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, David A. Schkade,
Norbert Schwarz, Arthur A. Stone
Science 3 December 2004:
Vol. 306. no. 5702, pp. 1776 - 1780
In this article, the authors put forward a new method of measuring our
daily affective experiences — our emotions at various moments
throughout our day as we go about daily lif—namely the DMR or the Day
The standard test to date has been the ESM (Experience Sampling
Method), a very labour intensive test.
ESM : Subjects wear beepers, and throughout the day, at irregular
intervals, the beepers go off.
The subjects have to then record what they are doing and with whom,
and what they felt or experienced at the time, given a list of possibilities.
The Technique (IC)
“Respondents first answered demographic and general satisfaction
questions. Next, they were asked to construct a short diary of the previous
day: "Think of your day as a continuous series of scenes or episodes in a
film. Give each episode a brief name that will help you remember it (for
example, `commuting to work', or `at lunch with B'...). Write down the
approximate times at which each episode began and ended. The episodes
people identify usually last between 15 minutes and 2 hours. …..
Next, respondents answered structured questions about each episode:
When it occurred (start and end times); what they were doing (by checking
one or more of 16 activities); where they were; with whom they were
interacting; and how they felt, using 12 affect descriptors, listed in Table 1.
The affect scales ranged from 0 (not at all) to 6 (very much). Finally,
respondents answered questions about their jobs and other personal
Note that 2 different kinds of “happiness” are being measured
in this survey:
Life satisfaction: how happy you are with various aspects of
your life (from the initial questions).
Affective response: the way you feel at a particular moment
(from the reconstruction of your day).
One of the things which the authors are interested in, is
the relation between these two kinds of happiness,
between satisfaction and affect.
Why would you want to do this?
“Evoking the context of the previous day is intended to elicit specific and
recent memories, thereby reducing errors and biases of recall (14, 15).
Experience sampling is the gold standard to which DRM results must be
compared; the DRM is intended to reproduce the information that would be
collected by probing experiences in real time. The new method is more
efficient than ESM: It imposes less respondent burden; does not disrupt
normal activities; and provides an assessment of contiguous episodes over
a full day, rather than a sampling of moments. Finally, the DRM provides
time-budget information, which is not collected effectively in experience
•Easier for the subjects
•Gives a complete picture of the day as opposed to random parts
•Shows how people use their time — how much time is spent on which
THE SUBJECT POOL
“We demonstrate the method with a convenience sample of 1018
employed women, focusing on the subset of 909 who had worked on the
reference day. The questionnaire and methodological details are
available online (16). Completion times for the self-administered
instrument ranged from 45 to 75 min. The ethnic composition of the
sample was 49% white (non-Hispanic), 24% African American, 22%
Hispanic, and 5% other. Average age was 38 years. Average household
income was $54,700.”
Mean affect rating
Positive Negative Competent Impatient Tired Mean hrs/day %Resp.
Intimate relations 5.10 0.36 4.57 0.74 3.09 0.2 0.11
Socializing 4.59 0.57 4.32 1.20 2.33 2.3 0.65
Relaxing 4.42 0.51 4.05 0.84 3.44 2.2 0.77
Pray/worship/meditate 4.35 0.59 4.45 1.04 2.95 0.4 0.23
Eating 4.34 0.59 4.12 0.95 2.55 2.2 0.94
Exercising 4.31 0.50 4.26 1.58 2.42 0.2 0.16
Watching TV 4.19 0.58 3.95 1.02 3.54 2.2 0.75
Shopping 3.95 0.74 4.26 2.08 2.66 0.4 0.30
Preparing food 3.93 0.69 4.20 1.54 3.11 1.1 0.62
On the phone 3.92 0.85 4.35 1.92 2.92 2.5 0.61
Care of my children 3.86 0.91 4.19 1.95 3.56 1.1 0.36
Computer/e-mail/Internet 3.81 0.80 4.57 1.93 2.62 1.9 0.47
Housework 3.73 0.77 4.23 2.11 3.40 1.1 0.49
Working 3.62 0.97 4.45 2.70 2.42 6.9 1.00
Commuting 3.45 0.89 4.09 2.60 2.75 1.6 0.87
Friends 4.36 0.67 4.37 1.61 2.59 2.6 0.65
Relatives 4.17 0.80 4.17 1.70 3.06 1.0 0.38
Spouse/SO 4.11 0.79 4.10 1.53 3.46 2.7 0.62
Children 4.04 0.75 4.13 1.65 3.40 2.3 0.53
Clients/customers 3.79 0.95 4.65 2.59 2.33 4.5 0.74
Co-workers 3.76 0.92 4.43 2.44 2.35 5.7 0.93
Boss 3.52 1.09 4.48 2.82 2.44 2.4 0.52
Alone 3.41 0.69 3.76 1.73 3.12 3.4 0.90
Duration-weighted mean 3.89 0.84 4.31 2.09 2.90
Some interesting aspects of these results:
•People’s affect tends to be overwhelmingly positive
during the day.
•Although people report that there are certain activities
that they dislike, such as housework and shopping,
most people do not seem to have such a bad time
while actually doing those activities.
•Thus, although childcare ranks about the same as
housework, the housework is (oddly) an
overwhelmingly positive experience.
Here, accuracy of
the DRM is
comparing it to the
results of the ESM.
For our purposes,
women are most
tired and grumpy.
Note: The times of day during which the subjects were most
irritable (early morning) and most tired (tiredness increases
steadily from noon on) coincides when working mothers are at
home with their children.
“They differ in interesting and predictable ways from generic enjoyment ratings of the
same activities. Juster (4) and Flood (9), for example, observed that interactions with
one's children topped the list of enjoyable activities, followed by going on trips, being
with friends, and working at one's job. Grocery shopping and cleaning the house were
rated lowest among 28 activities. In Table 1, taking care of one's children ranks just
above the least enjoyable activities of working, housework, and commuting. The
contrasting results likely reflect the difference between belief-based generic judgments
("I enjoy my kids") and specific episodic reports ("but they were a pain last night"). The
task of judging a category of events evokes instances that are prototypical but not
necessarily typical, and discourages reports of socially inappropriate affect (14). These
deficiencies are attenuated when respondents describe specific episodes, as they do
in the DRM.”
What is the relation of satisfaction to affect? Do they correspond
or are they different?
Do you think that this is the right explanation? That no one wants to
report how little they enjoy their children?
Subjects were working mothers who were polled only on work days:
they would have been tired, pressed for time, and irritable during the
hours they spent with their children.
It is unclear what the results would have been if the women had been
polled on the weekends.
What is the effect of personal characteristics on affect during certain
What had an effect upon the affect/emotional experience of the subjects
regardless of activity?
What they found:
a. Personal characteristics such as mild depression or poor sleep
had a pervasive effect on affect.
b. Local features of an interaction such as time pressure or person
with whom you are interacting has a powerful influence on
c. Life circumstances have a relatively small effect on emotional
experience unless one is affected by them in the moment (e.g.
It is clear that the less sleep one
gets, the more tired one is overall,
in roughly the same pattern as
those who sleep more.
The less sleep one gets, the more
tired one is overall, in roughly the
same pattern as those who sleep
The younger the subjects, the more
tired they are when they wake up in
If sleep is a major factor in how much one enjoys one’s activities,
then assuming that young mother’s get less sleep and less
uninterrupted sleep, this would certainly have an affect upon how
much young mother’s enjoyed their children on an average day and
on all their other home activities.
We can assume then, that mothers with young children would have
overall more negative scores for home activities.
However, all of the non-mom activities that young mother’s do—such
as cleaning, shopping, etc. would be averaged with all those non-
mothers in the study (thus lowering the average somewhat). But the
child-related activities are ONLY performed by mothers, so those
activities would not be combined with the somewhat more positive
scores of the non-mothers. Hence, they would have a lower positive
That is, by counting everyone together, we cannot see how mothers’
feel about their time with children; the lesser score could be the effect
of not having enough sleep, not of the activity itself.
And yet another explanation..
What do you think the relation is between life satisfaction with an activity
and emotional reaction to particular instances of the activity— I.e. your
satisfaction with your interactions with your children versus your actual
emotional reactions during a given interaction with your children?
Overall Satisfaction Emotional Reaction
Work (well paid Postie) Delivering mail
Work (Criminal Court Judge) Hearing a murder case
Work (minimum wage McD worker) A day at McDonalds
Work (Physician, Doctors without Border) Treating children in Rwanda
Consider the examples below and ask yourself what the differences in
overall satisfaction and moment to moment happiness would be for
people with different kinds of employment.
How would each person rank their overall satisfaction compared to what
each person feels while doing the work-related activity given?
E.g. Might a criminal court judge express high satisfaction and yet not
feel terribly jolly when dealing with an unrepentant murderer?
What does this tell you about the relation
between life satisfaction and individual
Could a person be very satisfied with his or her difficult job and yet,while
doing that job, experience some very negative emotions?
Conversely, could a person be very unsatisfied with his or her current job
(and be actively trying to train for something else) and yet, while working,
feel more or less positive?