Egon Dejonckheere has joined the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology at Tilburg University, in addition to his appointment at KU Leuven. With a grant from the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO, Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek in Vlaanderen), he is doing (among other topics) research on the data quality of experience sampling studies. He is also involved in the development of the app m-Path, a tool to bring experience sampling to clinical practice. Egon introduces himself and tells TESC about his work.

What does your work focus on and what are you currently working on?

‘I’m currently working on the reliability of experience sampling measurements and focus on the topic of careless responding, among others. The experience sampling method (ESM) is a very intensive way of data collection, especially for the respondent, who is expected to spend the entire day thinking about his feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. You expect considerable effort from the participant. We know that participants do not always fill out the questions very reliably, and sometimes they do not have time because the beeps come at an inconvenient time or because there are other things that require attention while filling out the questions. This obviously impacts the quality of the data and the conclusions we can make on the data to answer our research questions. It is important to know whether a participant filled out the questions carelessly or not.’

Can you tell us how you approach this research?

‘I try to surround myself with people with complementary expertise, for example, with knowledge about certain analysis techniques, or with people who are substantively working on a similar topic. Together, we search for the optimal design to answer our research questions, where we often try to think out of the box to come up with new creative approaches. Often, this results in real-life ESM experiments, where we make small adjustments to the traditional ESM protocol to see which design works best.’

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

‘We should move more toward general practices with more standardization in how we apply experience sampling. In experimental research or cross-sectional survey research, a certain tradition has been in existence for years regarding how to do things. Because experience sampling is a relatively new method that has gone through a lot of evolution, from pen and paper to smartphones, it is really still the wild west. Everyone is just doing whatever they are doing because they have always done it that way, while we don’t really know the impact of those decisions on the data we collect. With my research, I hope to gain a better understanding of the effects of different choices and an answer to the question of what, ideally, is the best way to map things in everyday life. The answer will depend on your research question and not a one-fits-all solution. That we at least have an understanding of the impact of our decisions is what I hope to contribute to.’

Is there a lesson you learned that you would like to share with other researchers looking to start ESM?

‘I would say: less is more. Because experience sampling is such an intensive way of collecting data, you’re quick to think, ‘I’m going to set up a study that can answer multiple research questions.’ That can come at the expense of the quality of the data. I’ve fallen into that trap myself at times. If you know what you’re going to do with each item and why you want to ask it, it will yield better quality data. The longer the questionnaire, the harder it is for the participant to fill it out over and over again, several times a day, so try to limit yourself to what you are really interested in.’

In addition to conducting research, you also lecture students. What do your lectures focus on?

‘I offer various types of lectures, from interview techniques and intelligence tests in clinical practice to ambulatory measurement and its usefulness in clinical practice. I also lecture on emotion research in everyday life using smartphones and the experience sampling method. So, very diverse.’

You are involved in the development of the m-Path app. Can you briefly tell us what m-Path is?

m-Path began as a platform to bring the experience sampling method to clinical practice. There are already many studies about the clinical value of the experience sampling method. With this knowledge, we wanted to offer a platform to flexibly apply experience sampling in clinical practice, as a valuable complement to classical therapy sessions. We invest heavily on intuitively summarizing and structuring the amount of information you can get from an ESM study. The therapist has a dashboard of each client, can access all the information in real time, and can talk about it with the client in the therapy session.’

What exactly is the added value of ESM in clinical practice?

‘Asking repeated questions and having clients examine their symptoms throughout the day can give clients insight into their own issues. Reviewing and discussing ESM data with your therapist can help clients better recognize certain triggers in their environment or discover certain patterns. Also, viewing the data can help the client remember how the week went. We know that people do not always have a 100% accurate reconstruction of how things went.’

What makes m-Path unique compared to other ESM apps?

‘Because we focused on clinical practice from the beginning, we invest heavily on usability. Anyone can get started with it, which makes m-Path interesting not only for clinicians, but also for novice researchers interested in ESM, because they do not have to do any complex programming. The fact that clinicians are also present on the platform increases the translational value of the surveys or interventions researchers create on our platform, because therapists can immediately start to use them when proven effective. Indeed, m-Path is not only suitable for asking questions. You can also use it to make interventions in real life. Then we are moving from ecological assessment to ecological intervention.’

Finally, what do you like to do in your free time?

‘In my spare time, I play badminton, but that has been on the back burner since the birth of my daughter. I also DJ, better known as ‘AlterEgon’. That started during my student days in the pub and now I still sometimes spin records at weddings. Soon I will be playing at the Emotions 2023 Conference at Tilburg University, so make sure to check that out!’

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