Using the repository: Emotion regulation items
Anu Hiekkaranta, November 2021
Many emotion regulation researchers are now expanding their investigation outside the laboratory to the study of naturally occurring emotion regulation. Ideally suited for such an endeavor of course, is the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). An ESM novice aiming to study emotion regulation in the wild may ask: Where do I start? We suggest you start by browsing the repository! You can explore existing items in the repository by using the search tools at https://www.esmitemrepository.com/. In this post, I will walk you through the search results for two emotion regulation strategies, rumination and acceptance, as well as how you might best make use of what you find in the repository.
Example case 1: Rumination
Let’s say you would like to study rumination in daily life. Rumination items are one of the most often included items in new contributions to the repository. One way to use the repository to find relevant items with a concept in mind is to look up items with a certain description. At the time of writing this blog post searching the repository for items with “rumination” in the description results in 14 hits. You will immediately be able to view the results and some details about them. For more information about each item, you can download the search results. Browsing the rumination items will give you an idea of how different researchers have adapted items from traditional self-report questionnaires to ESM items (e.g., I am thinking about my feelings, I am thinking about my problems (Moberly & Watkins, 2008), and I am ruminating (Snippe et al., 2019)). Moreover, your search results will also illustrate how others have developed ways to investigate ruminating by anchoring to different time frames, specific events, and specific thoughts. For example, some researchers first ask participants what they are thinking about at the moment they got the notification, followed by questions about the characteristics of their current thoughts, such as rating their agreement with statements like: This is a repetitive thought (ESM Item Repository, Kirtley et al., 2019, item 152). Alternatively, participants in a study may be asked to identify a specific event, such as the most important event in the past two hours. Then, participants can be asked questions related the event, such as I have thought about it a lot (most important event in the past 2 hours), (Kirtley et al., 2021). You may also note that researchers have anchored ruminating to different types of events: positive, negative, and important.
Per each search results with the description “rumination”, you can also see, among other details, what population the item has been used in, the response scale, and the number of times the item was presented per day. In addition, browsing for emotion regulation items in the repository reveals differences in how many items different researchers have used to study emotion regulation constructs within their experience sampling questionnaires. You will see for instance, that when studying rumination, some have opted for one item, while others use several.
Now, let’s consider what similarities we find when we search for another emotion regulation strategy in the repository, and take note some of the practical challenges in choosing the items for your study.
Example case 2: Acceptance
As with rumination, browsing the repository for acceptance-related items demonstrates the diversity in operationalization of emotion regulation constructs. For example, the description “acceptance” can be found in the repository for all of the following items:
-I let my thoughts be there without reacting to them (ESM Item Repository, Kirtley et al., 2019: item 307)
-Think about the most negative event today. I let it happen (Kirtley et al., 2021)
-Today, I could let go of my negative feelings without acting upon them (ESM Item Repository, Kirtley et al., 2019, item 341)
-(Most negative event) I just accepted my emotions (Kirtley et al., 2021)
Careful examination of these items reveals subtle but important differences. Acceptance, like rumination, can be anchored to e.g., thoughts, events, emotions, or emotions related to specific events. When deciding which items to use for any emotion regulation construct, it will be useful to consider not only one’s theoretical understanding of the construct of acceptance, but also practical concerns. Which of the items are easiest to respond to and how many times per day, given the population in which you want to study acceptance, and the timing of your study? For example, reflecting on one’s thoughts and reactivity to them several times a day requires a level of insight you may not expect from children or teenagers (and indeed, this poses a challenge to adults as well!). To tackle the issue, anchoring acceptance to events may help participants grasp the concept of acceptance better in the moment. However, persons living in quarantine or locked down cities as many currently are, may have few events to report. These concerns raise new questions. What will you consider an event? Do participants need to be briefed with specific examples of events that may take place for them, in their current circumstances? You may also conclude that existing items (gathered from the repository or elsewhere) do not sufficiently capture the type of emotion regulation you are interested in. In that case, we hope you return to the drawing board wiser and even a little more inspired!
Discover and develop
The field of emotion regulation in daily life is still in its infancy. Indeed, many fields in psychology are still new to experience sampling. Therefore, we invite you to use the repository to discover the existing items relevant to your research, be it emotion regulation or something else. We hope that what you learn may save you time and help you make decisions about which items to use. Moreover, we hope to inspire you to think about how to validate existing items and how to adapt and develop items to your research needs. As a final point, once you have collected some data, we warmly encourage you to make your own submission to the ESM Item Repository!
Kirtley, O. J., Hiekkaranta, A. P., Kunkels, Y. K., Verhoeven, D., Van Nierop, M., & Myin-Germeys, I. (2019). The Experience Sampling Method (ESM) Item Repository. https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/KG376
Kirtley, O. J., Achterhof, R., Hagemann, N., Hermans, K. S. F. M., Hiekkaranta, A. P., Lecei, A., … Myin-Germeys, I. (2021, April 2). Initial cohort characteristics and protocol for SIGMA: An accelerated longitudinal study of environmental factors, inter- and intrapersonal processes, and mental health in adolescence. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/jp2fk
Moberly, N. J., & Watkins, E, R. (2008). Ruminative self-focus and negative affect: An experience sampling study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117(2), 314.
Snippe, E., Helmich, M., Kunkels, Y. K., Riese, H., Smit, A., & Wichers, M. (2019). Esm Item Documentation. Retrieved from https://osf.io/a8572/.