The Day Reconstruction Method (DRC)

Background:

How people spend their time and how they experience the various activities and settings of their lives are significant questions for researchers in diverse disciplines. The Day Reconstruction Method (DRM) is designed to collect data describing the experiences a person has on a given day, through a systematic reconstruction conducted on the following day. The DRM builds on the strengths of time-budget measurement (Juster & Stafford, 1985; Robinson & Godbye, 1997) and experience sampling (Stone, Shiffman, & DeVries, 1999), and employs techniques grounded in cognitive science. The conceptual rationale and illustrative findings, based on a sample of employed women in Texas, are presented in Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, and Stone (2004). The results indicate a close correspondence between the DRM and established results from experience sampling.

Key advantages of the DRM include:

  • Joint assessment of activities and subjective experiences
  • Information about the duration of each experience, allowing for duration weighted analyses of experiences
  • Lower respondent burden than typical for experience sampling methods
  • More complete coverage of the day than typical for experience sampling methods
  • Lower susceptibility to retrospective reporting biases than typical for global reports of daily experiences
  • High flexibility in adapting the content of the instrument to the needs of the specific study

The Day Reconstruction Method (DRM) assesses how people spend their time and how they experience the various activities and settings of their lives, combining features of time-budget measurement and experience sampling. Participants systematically reconstruct their activities and experiences of the preceding day with procedures designed to reduce recall biases. The benefits of the DRM as outlined by the authors are: joint assessment of activities and subjective experiences, information about the duration of each experience, allowing for duration weighted analyses of experiences, lower respondent burden than typical for experience sampling methods, more complete coverage of the day than typical for experience sampling methods, lower susceptibility to retrospective reporting biases than typical for global reports of daily experiences, high flexibility in adapting the content of the instrument to the needs of the  specific study.

 

Psychometrics:

The DRM’s utility is shown by documenting close correspondences between the DRM reports of 909 employed women and established results from experience sampling. An analysis of the hedonic treadmill shows the DRM’s potential for well-being research.

Author of Tool:

Kahneman, D., Kreuger, A. B., & Schkade, D. A.

Key references:

Kahneman, D., Kreuger, A. B., & Schkade, D. A. (2004). A survey method for characterizing daily life experience: The day reconstruction method. Science, 306, 1776–1780.

Primary use / Purpose:

A measure of how people spend their time and how they experience the various activities and settings of their lives.

Files:

drm

 

The Day Reconstruction Method (DRC)

The DRM asks respondents to reconstruct the previous day by completing a structured self-administered questionnaire. A respondent first instantiates the previous day into working memory by producing a short diary consisting of a sequence of episodes. This instrument is documented as “Packet 2.” Its format draws on insights from cognitive research with Event History Calendars (Belli, 1998) and facilitates retrieval from autobiographical memory through multiple pathways. Its episodic instantiation format attenuated biases commonly observed in retrospective reports (Robinson & Clore, 2002; Schwarz & Oyserman, 2001; Schwarz & Sudman, 1994). Respondents’ diary entries are confidential and the diary does not need to be returned to the researcher. This allows respondents to use idiosyncratic notes, including details they may not want to share.

Next, respondents receive a response form (documented as “Packet 3”) and are encouraged to draw on their confidential diary notes to answer a series of questions. These questions ask them to describe key features of each episode, including (1) when the episode began and ended, (2) what they were doing, (3) where they were, (4) whom they were interacting with, and (5) how they felt on multiple affect dimensions. This response form is returned to the researcher for analysis.

In addition, respondents answer a number of questions about themselves and the circumstances of their lives (e.g., demographics, job characteristics, personality measures). “Packet 1“ and “Packet 4” document the variables assessed in the study reported in Kahneman et al. (2004).

Administration 

For methodological reasons, it is important that respondents complete the diary before they are aware of the specific content of the later questions about each episode. Early knowledge of these questions may affect the reconstruction of the previous day and may introduce selection biases. This is best achieved by presenting the diary (“Packet 2”) and the response form (“Packet 3”) in separate envelopes, asking respondents not to open the next envelope until the previous material is completed.

The DRM can be administered individually or in group settings. In our experience, adults from the general population can complete the full set of materials in 45 to 75 minutes.

References

Belli, R. (1998). The structure of autobiographical memory and the event history calendar: Potential improvements in the quality of retrospective reports in surveys, Memory, 6, 383-406.

Juster, F. T., & Stafford, F. P. (eds.) (1985). Time, goods, and well-being. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research Press.

Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2004).

A survey method for characterizing daily life experience: The Day Reconstruction Method (DRM). Manuscript under review.

Robinson, J. P., & Godbey, P. (1997). Time for life: The surprising ways Americans use their time. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Robinson, M. D., & Clore, G. L. (2002). Belief and feeling: Evidence for an accessibility model of emotional self-reports. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 934-960.