Mobile phones can be used to find out owners' sense of well-being.
In a study, the researchers found that cell phones can efficiently capture information that is otherwise difficult to record, given today's on-the-go lifestyle.
According to the researchers, this is important because feelings recorded "in the moment" are likely to be more accurate than feelings jotted down after the fact.
To conduct the study, the team created an application for the Android operating system that documented each person's location and periodically sent the question, 'How happy are you?'
The investigators invited people to download the app, and over a three-week period, collected information from 270 volunteers in 13 countries who were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of 0 to 5.
From the data collected, the researchers created and fine-tuned methods that could lead to a better understanding of how our environments influence emotional well-being.
John Palmer, a graduate student in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the paper's lead author teamed up with Thomas Espenshade, professor of sociology emeritus, and Frederic Bartumeus, a specialist in movement ecology at the Center for Advanced Studies of Blanes in Spain, along with Princeton's Chang Chung, a statistical programmer and data archivist in the Office of Population Research; Necati Ozgencil, a former Professional Specialist at Princeton; and Kathleen Li, to design the free, open source application for the Android platform that would record participants' locations at various intervals based on either GPS satellites or cellular tower signals.
Palmer noted that the team's focus at this stage was not on generalizable conclusions about the link between environment and happiness, but rather on learning more about the mobile phone's capabilities for data collection.
The study has been published in the June issue of Demography.