Understanding Ecological Momentary Assessments (EMA)
Understanding Ecological Momentary Assessments (EMA)

Understanding Ecological Momentary Assessments (EMA)

In the intricate world of epidemiological research, a powerful tool known as Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) allows us to explore the nuances of human behavior, thoughts, and emotions catching them within their natural habitat.

What is EMA?

Ecological Momentary Assessment, or EMA, is a method that reaches outside the boundaries of traditional assessment, allowing us to gather real-time data on participants’ experiences as they unfold organically in their everyday lives. Unlike conventional approaches that rely on hindsight and memory, EMA captures human behavior in the moment while they are felt or experienced. Using mobile devices like smartphones and wearable sensors to collect data seamlessly.

A Dive into the Process

Participants share their experiences by completing brief questions (under 1-minute completion) on their phone and/or another mobile device. They get sent these brief questions multiple times a day (at the same times or randomly) over several days or even weeks. Through techniques such as text messages, smartphone apps, or electronic diaries, an EMA prompts them to reflect on their current activities, emotions, experiences, and various other relevant variables. This data collection process grants us access to a trove of information, enabling us to decode human behaviour precisely and in a natural environment.  

Advantages of EMA

EMA offers lots of advantages that elevate it in the realm of research methodologies:

  1. Increased Ecological Validity: EMA goes beyond the confines of the lab, capturing data in real-world settings. This authenticity provides a deeper understanding of human experiences in their natural habitat.
  • Reduced Recall Bias: By prompting participants to report their experiences promptly after they occur, EMA minimizes the distortions of memory, ensuring data accuracy.
  • Fine-Grained Data: One of the greatest features of EMA is its ability to capture the subtle fluctuations and patterns in behaviour over time. This perspective offers a detailed picture of the individual experience.
  • Contextual Information: EMA goes beyond data collection; enabling researchers to have information on the context surrounding participants. We can understand more about individuals’ surroundings, social interactions, and activities and other factors that might be influencing behaviors.

Applications in the CircaMS study

In the CircaMS study participants will complete an EMA 3 times daily (8am, 2pm, 8pm) for 10 days, providing a rating of their pain/fatigue and other experiences. This helps us to create an individual profile of symptoms and experiences. We really value people’s time, and we want to avoid adding a burden to participants. So, we created our surveys and e-diary in collaboration with people with lived experience of MS and tried to keep our questions focused and brief. To create an accurate individual profile, we encourage our participants to complete as much time points as they can during the 10 days.

If you have any questions or want to get in touch with us don’t hesitate to contact us at circams@ghasemloulab.ca

Thank you for considering taking part in the CircaMS Study and sharing your experiences with us!

Written by Katie Goddard


Smyth, J.M., Stone, A.A. Ecological Momentary Assessment Research in Behavioral medicine. Journal of Happiness Studies 4, 35–52 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1023657221954

Saul Shiffman, Conceptualizing Analyses of Ecological Momentary Assessment Data, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Volume 16, Issue Suppl_2, (2014). https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/ntt195

Ono M, Schneider S, Junghaenel D, Stone A. What Affects the Completion of Ecological Momentary Assessments in Chronic Pain Research? An Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis J Med Internet Res (2019).  https://doi.org/10.2196/11398

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