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Agence France-Presse
August 24, 2013
Researchers at Princeton University in the US are developing ways to use mobile phones to explore how our environment can influence our mood.
In a study involving 270 volunteers from 13 countries who agreed to provide information about their feelings and whereabouts, the researchers found that mobile phones do a better job at capturing "in the moment" feelings than jotting them down after the fact.

To conduct the study, the team created an app that documented each person's location and periodically sent the question, "How happy are you?" After downloading the app onto their smartphones, volunteers rated their happiness on a scale of 0 to 5 throughout a three-week period.

From the data collected, the researchers created and fine-tuned methods that could lead to a better understanding of how our environments influence emotional well-being, they said. Plus the researchers said that tracking moods and thoughts via smartphones trumps censor surveys, which are often conducted at people's homes, which they say only gives a small picture of one's sense of well-being.

"People spend a significant amount of time outside their" homes, said John Palmer, a graduate student in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the paper's lead author. "If we want to get more precise findings of contextual measurements we need to use techniques like this."

The study, announced Thursday, was published in the journal Demography.

At this point, the study didn't focus on how environment affects happiness, but rather on learning the mobile phone's capabilities for data collection. However, the team did obtain some preliminary results regarding happiness: for example, male subjects tended to describe themselves as less happy when they were further from their homes, whereas females did not demonstrate a particular trend with regards to emotions and distance from home.

A separate study earlier this year analyzing 37 million tweets found that people are happier when they are away from home. Researchers at the University of Vermont found that tweets contained more positive language the farther users traveled from their home. Using location data to track where the user was tweeting from, the study analyzed tweets from about 180,000 users.