The Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR)

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: W:\public_html\anetrule.gif

The EAR constitutes the heart of my research program. It is a new tool for sampling behavioral data in naturalistic settings. James Pennebaker and I developed the method at the University of Texas at Austin at the end of the last century. Since then it has undergone a series of technical metamorphoses and is now available in a completely revised third generation version.

The rapid progress in micro technology has made the EAR change its appearance a number of times (check out the EAR family tree), yet the basic methodological ingredients have remained the same: A micro recording device (first a tape recorder, then a digital voice recorder, now a Pocket PC) is programmed to periodically record brief snippets of ambient sounds. Participants wear the EAR (on a belt or in a purse) while going about their normal lives. In its default sampling strategy, the EAR yields about 70 samples of a person's acoustic social environment per person per day (i.e., about 35 minutes of ambient sounds).

The power of the EAR lies in collecting authentic real-life observation data. The vividness of the captured ambient sounds is impressive. In preserving a high degree of naturalism and authenticity at the level of the raw data, the EAR can almost be considered an ethnographic method.  Due to its sampling however, it allows for nomothetic as well as idiographic analyses. With its systematic recording pattern, the EAR provides a representative acoustic log of a person's day as it naturally unfolds. Due to its fine meshed sampling (~ 5 data points per hour), it can reliably capture even low-frequency behaviors such as arguments, self-talk, or laughter.  Because the EAR operates unobtrusively and imperceptibly, measurement induced intrusions are minimal.

From a conceptual perspective, the strength of the EAR lies in its ability to provide researchers with an observer's point of view on the participants' spontaneous behaviors. Whereas traditional experience sampling techniques that prompt participants several times a day to report on their momentary activities document many aspects of daily life reliably and accurately, the EAR captures daily life from the perspective (the ear) of an unobtrusive bystander. In not relying on the self as informant, the EAR bypasses potential limitations and biases in participants' information processing making the method particularly suited for capturing aspects of social life that normally go unnoticed (e.g., subtle interaction preferences or linguistic styles).


Original EAR Publication:

Mehl, M. R., Pennebaker, J. W., Crow, M. D., Dabbs, J., & Price, J. H. (2001). The Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR): A device for sampling naturalistic daily activities and conver­sations. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 33, 517-523. [pdf]

EAR Method Publications:

Mehl, M. R., Robbins, M. L., & Deters, g. F. (2012). Naturalistic observation of health-relevant social processes: The Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) methodology in psychosomatics. Psychosomatic Medicine, 74, 410-417. [pdf]


Mehl, M. R. & Robbins, M. L. (2012). Naturalistic observation sampling: The Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR). In M. R. Mehl & T. S. Conner (Eds.), Handbook of research methods for studying daily life. New York, NY: Guilford Press.


Mehl, M. R. (2009). Naturalistic observation of daily behavior in personality psychology [Comment on Furr's target article]. European Journal of Personality, 23, 414-416. [pdf]


Mehl, M. R. (2007). Eavesdropping on health: A naturalistic observation approach for social-health research. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 359-380. [pdf]

Mehl, M. R., & Holleran, S. E. (2007). An empirical analysis of the obtrusiveness of and participants' compliance with the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR). European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 23, 248-257.[pdf]

Empirical EAR Publications:

Robbins, M. L., López, A. M., Weihs, K. L., & Mehl, M. R. (in press). Cancer conversations in context: Naturalistic observation of couples coping with breast cancer. Journal of Family Psychology. [pdf]


Brown, W. C., Tragesser, S. L., Tomko, R. L., Mehl, M. R., & Trull, T. J. (2014). Recall of expressed affect during naturalistically observed interpersonal events in those with Borderline Personality Disorder or Depressive Disorder. Assessment, 21, 72-80. [pdf]


Tenney, E. R., Vazire, S., & Mehl, M. R. (2013). This examined life: The upside of self-knowledge for interpersonal relationships. PLoS ONE, 8, e69605. [link]


Tomko, R. L., Brown, W. C., Tragesser, S. L., Wood, P. K., Mehl, M. R., & Trull, T. J. (2012). Social context of anger in Borderline Personality Disorder and Depressive Disorders: Findings from a naturalistic observation study. Journal of Personality Disorders. [pdf]


Augustine, A. A., Mehl, M. R., & Larsen, R. J., (2011). A positivity bias in written and spoken English, and its moderation by personality and gender. Social Psychology and Personality Science. [pdf]


Holleran, S. E., Whitehead, J., Schmader, T., & Mehl, M. R. (2011). Talking shop and shooting the breeze: A study of workplace conversations and job disengagement among STEM faculty. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 65-71. [pdf]


Robbins, M. L., Focella, E. S., Kasle, S., Weihs, K. L., Lopez, A. M., & Mehl, M. R., (2011). Naturalistically observed swearing, emotional support and depressive symptoms in women coping with illness. Health Psychology, 30, 789-792. [pdf]


Robbins, M. L., Mehl, M. R., Holleran, S. E., & Kasle, S. (2011). Naturalistically observed sighing and depression in rheumatoid arthritis patients: A preliminary study. Health Psychology, 30, 129-133. [pdf]


Holtzman, N. S., Vazire, S., & Mehl, M. R. (2010). Sounds like a narcissist: Behavioral manifestations of narcissism in everyday life. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 478-484. [pdf]


Mehl, M. R., Vazire, S., Holleran, S. E., & Clark, C. S. (2010). Eavesdropping on happiness: Well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations. Psychological Science, 21, 539-541. [pdf] [suppl] 


Holleran, S. E., Mehl, M. R., & Levitt, S. (2009). Eavesdropping on social life: The accuracy of stranger ratings of daily behavior from thin slices of natural conversations. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 660-672. [pdf]


Ramirez-Esparza, N., Mehl, M. R., Alvarez Bermudez, J., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2009). Are Mexicans more or less sociable than Americans? Insights from a naturalistic observation study. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 1-7. [pdf]


Hasler, B., Mehl, M. R., Bootzin, R., & Vazire, S. (2008). Preliminary evidence of diurnal rhythms in everyday behaviors associated with positive affect. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1537-1546. [pdf]


Vazire, S., & Mehl, M. R. (2008). Knowing me, knowing you: The relative accuracy and unique predictive validity of self- and other ratings of daily behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1202-1216. [pdf]

Mehl, M. R., Vazire, S., Ramirez-Esparza, N., Slatcher, R. B., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2007). Are women really more talkative than men? Science, 317, 82. [link]

Mehl, M. R. (2006). The lay assessment of sub-clinical depression in daily life. Psychological Assessment, 18, 340-345. [pdf]

Mehl, M. R., Gosling, S. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2006). Personality in its natural habitat: Manifestations and implicit folk theories of personality in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 862-877. [pdf] [suppl]

Mehl, M. R., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2003). The sounds of social life: A psychometric analysis of students’ daily social environments and natural conversations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 857-870. [pdf]

Mehl, M. R., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2003). The social dynamics of a cultural upheaval: Social interactions surrounding September 11, 2001. Psychological Science, 14, 579-585. [pdf]



back to home