Comparing Signal-Contingent and Event-Contingent Experience Sampling Ratings of Affect in a Sample of Psychotherapy Outpatients

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Experience sampling methods are widely used in clinical psychology to study affective dynamics in psychopathology. The present study examined whether affect ratings (valence and arousal) differed as a function of assessment schedule (signal- versus event-contingent) in a clinical sample and considered various approaches to modeling these ratings. A total of 40 community mental health center outpatients completed ratings of their affective experiences over a 21-day period using both signal-contingent schedules (random prompts) and event-contingent schedules (ratings following social interactions). We tested whether assessment schedules impacted 1) the central tendency (mean) and variability (standard deviation) of valence or arousal considered individually, 2) the joint variability in valence and arousal via the entropy metric, and 3) the between-person differences in configuration of valence-arousal landscapes via the Earth Mover’s Distance (EMD) metric. We found that event-contingent schedules, relative to signal-contingent schedules, captured higher average levels of pleasant valence and emotional arousal ratings. Moreover, signal-contingent schedules captured greater variability within and between individuals on arousal-valence landscapes compared to event-contingent schedules. Altogether, findings suggest that the two assessment schedules should not be treated interchangeably in the assessment of affect over time. Researchers must be cautious in generalizing results across studies utilizing different experience sampling assessment schedules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-24
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


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