Summary of the Research Article:
The journal article “Happier People Live More Active Lives: Using Smartphones to Link Happiness and Physical Activity” by Neal Lathia, Gillian M. Sandstrom, Cecilia Mascolo, and Peter J. Rentfrow attempted to find if physical activity throughout the day is tied to happiness.
The study used ecological momentary assessment (EMA) in smartphones to collect self-report data and smart-phone technology that measured movement to gather data on physical activity. Participants in the study were anyone who downloaded the app onto their android phones and continued to interact with the app throughout the study. There were over 10,000 participants in the study. The app sent two surveys to the participants between 8 AM and 10 PM, at least two hours apart, to measure emotion and physical activity. Participants’ happiness was measured by having them plot their mood on a graph relating to stress, excitement, depression, and relaxation. Participants also answered questions asking how much an adjective described their mood from 1 to 7, with 1 being the lowest and 7 the highest. Physical activity was measured both through self-report and data recorded by the phone itself. The app would ask what kind of physical activity a user had done in the past 15 minutes a long of what kind of emotions the participants felt.
The study found a positive correlation between physical activity and happiness. This correlation continued both on weekdays and weekends. Happier people tended to start their days earlier and end their days later and participate in physical activity during the entire day. The study also found a correlation between a lack of physical activity and lower levels of happiness. The physical activity measured wasn’t vigorous activity but a more everyday physical activity such as walking, running, or cycling. The researchers say this association between physical activity and happiness is “modest but reliable”, meaning that the correlation was small but consistent. The researchers caution against making extreme conclusions from this study, as it showed a small correlation between physical activity and happiness.
It is important to make the distinction between correlation and causation. The study did not show that physical movement caused happiness or that movement caused happiness. The only study that can show causation is an experiment. This study only showed that there seems to be a relationship between physical activity and happiness, and the researchers actually suggest that an experiment should be done to demonstrate causation.
The researchers assert that their use of phones to collect data may be a great way to collect data in future research studies, but they also caution against some problems arising from cell phone data. Participants are unlikely to have carried their phones and especially during vigorous exercise. It also drains the battery of the phone to continuously collect data. The researchers finally identify that it is hard to know how feedback from an act influences mood or behavior.
Ultimately, the researchers conclude that the study shows that the amount people move during the day is correlated with happiness.
As I was summarizing the article, I felt some sympathy for the journalist who wrote the original news article. It is difficult to relay scientific information while still keeping the article interesting for the general public. It is also difficult to relay scientific information using common words and phrases so the average person can understand it. I couldn’t include how the data from the android on physical activity correlated with the self-report data on physical activity, which showed that the data from the phone was a reliable measure to use for physical activity. I also would have liked to include some more information on how the researchers collected data and what type of questions they asked participants to answer. I decided that these two pieces of information could be sacrificed without severely altering the understanding of the study. I aslo felt that omitting a different section, such as the section on limitations of the study, would have been more damaging to someone’s understanding of the study than the details of how the study was carried out.
My perspective of journalists has definitely changed over the course of these projects. At first, I felt like journalists wrote articles to get views and not really to inform the general public. After reading this news article and trying to summarize the study myself, I have realized that a journalist’s job is a lot more difficult than I originally realized. Journalists have to make an article interesting in order to inform people, and I now think that journalists have a more noble intent in writing than I did at the beginning of this project.