How we measure behavior outside of the laboratory

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Elena Koch
About the Author

Elena D. Koch is a sports scientist at the Mental mHealth Lab / Chair of Applied Psychology, Institute of Sports and Sports Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany. She is investigating the effects of physical activity on adolescents and adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Dr. Jeanette Mostert
About the Author

Dr. Jeanette Mostert specializes in Cognitive Neuroscience and Biological Psychiatry and is the Dissemination Manager for several Horizon2020 projects, including CoCA, PRIME and Eat2BeNice/New Brain Nutrition.


Imagine that you are a researcher who wants to know if daily physical activity training can improve mood and mental health in individuals with ADHD. Ideally – from a research perspective – you would keep these individuals at your laboratory for a couple weeks, monitor everything they do, and ask them repeatedly how they feel. This setting is very controlled, and you are sure that your participants will do the exercise exactly as they are supposed to do. However, spending weeks in a laboratory would be very unpleasant for the research participants, and very unfeasible. The alternative is to make the research intervention (in this case: the physical activity training) part of your participants’ daily life. This is what we call a more ‘naturalistic’ setting. But how do you know if they really do the training? And how do you monitor what else they do, eat and feel during the research period? For this, we use activity sensors and smart phone apps. Through such an app researchers can send questions and exercises to participants throughout the day. For instance asking how they feel at that moment, or what they have eaten. We can also track how much they move and exercise. Together, these measurements are called Ambulatory Assessment. Our researchers at Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Germany are experts on these types of measurements. You can read more about this in the blogs by researchers Clara Hausmann and Elena Koch.

A full version of this blog was recently posted on: https://mind-the-gap.live/2020/05/20/why-following-instructions-is-essential-for-treatment-success-and-why-this-is-really-difficult/