Experience Sampling Project – About the Project

The subjective experience of affect plays a fundamental role in diverse psychological phenomena. Consequently, understanding how affect is structured is one of the longstanding challenges to the science of psychology. What are the fundamental dimensions that make up affect? Does the nature of these dimensions vary with culture and psychological well-being? Much theory and research have examined the first question, and interest is growing in the second.

Theory and research point to valence and arousal as fundamental dimensions of affect, although the nature of each is yet to be examined. In this proposal, we will focus on valence. In the circumplex model of affect, valence is defined as pleasant versus unpleasant affect (and arousal as activated versus deactivated affect), which implies that happiness and sadness are mutually exclusive. When one is happy, one cannot be sad. Others have argued that happiness and sadness are two separable entities, suggesting that one can feel happy and sad simultaneously. Our project will involve a cross-cultural investigation into the extent to which pleasant and unpleasant affect can coexist in everyday life, using an experience-sampling design.

Recent studies have suggested that pleasant and unpleasant affect can and do co-occur in Eastern but not in Western culture. The positive impact of their co-occurrence on well-being received conflicting evidence. However, those studies used samples that were too small and the subjects were not diverse enough to reach conclusive findings. The investigation should be extended to include larger samples from diverse cultures. More importantly, it needs to be cross-validated with other methods such as the experience-sampling method, which provides a platform on which both state (within-person) and trait (between-person) affect can be examined in everyday life. Such is the purpose of this proposed project.

We will build on an existing research network involving 50 cultures, each of which has already been characterized in important ways in prior research. Data will be gathered from those 50 cultures using surveys administered in Indo-European, Hamito-Semitic, Sino-Tibetan, Daic, Uralic, Malayo-Polynesian, Dravidian, and Altaic languages. These cultures represent six continents and cover the global regions identified by Schwartz (2006), with several samples from within each region to ensure replicability. Specifically, we will estimate the overall relation of psychological well-being to the relationship between pleasant and unpleasant affect, and how much this overall relation varies across cultures. The small number of cultures in previous work did not allow such questions to be properly addressed.  We will also use the empirical findings to test specific theories about the nature of valence and its relationship with culture and other correlates.