Quantifying Situational and Environmental Context

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how to measure situations and situational contextIn this post, I would like to share some preliminary findings of my attempts at quantifying and tracking everyday situational and environmental context. Specifically, I will explain how I have been logging everyday situations and environment, and will talk about some interesting patterns that I found in my data.

The measurement and classification of situations have always been of interest to psychologists and sociologists, so there is plenty of research material out there on this topic. As a self-tracker, I was particularly interested in a self-centric perspective (situations as related to me), and found the trait psychology approach to rating situations to be the most suitable for my purposes (this wonderful article provides a very extensive review of current methods). After some research, I decided on five dimensions that could be used to rate situational and environmental context. The first three dimensions (passive-active, negative-positive, and personal-social) are adopted from Magnusson’s taxonomy of situations.  The fourth dimension (unfamiliar-familiar) was adopted from Endler, Hunt and Rosenstein, and the fifth (incompetent- competence) – from Forgas’ taxonomy of social episodes. Currently I use these dimensions to rate context of the situations and environments four times a day: 7-9 am, 9 am- 12 pm, 12 pm – 5 pm, and 5 pm = 10 pm:

  • Passive-Active dimension: using a 10-point sliding scale in rTracker, I rate how active were the environment and situations in terms of my involvement (the higher is the score, the more active I was);
  • Negative-Positive dimension: I rate how favorable and pleasant was the environment and situations for me, using a 10-point sliding scale (higher score indicates more positive context);
  • Personal-Social dimension: reflects a number of people I have been communicating or otherwise engaging with; the higher is the score (on 10-point sliding scale), the more social was context;
  • Unfamiliar-Familiar dimension: using a 10-point sliding scale, I also rate how usual and familiar were the setting and context; the higher score indicates more familiar context;
  • Incompetent-Competent dimension: reflects how competent and skillful I was at handling the problems and overall situation/environment; the higher score indicates higher competence.

With 1.5 months of data accumulated so far (over 180 data points), I can now run some preliminary analysis. I was particularly interested in how situational and environmental context is related to my emotional state, stress, happiness and self-esteem. For that, I fitted linear regression models for each of these variables, using five dimensions of situational context as predictors.

The results of the first regression model suggest that positivity of my emotional state is mostly influenced by the valence of situational context. In other words, my emotions are more likely to positive, when the context of the situation is favorable to me:

situational context and mood positivity model

Based on the second model, I can conclude that intensity of my emotional state is driven by the levels of my involvement in the situation. In other words, the more of an active participant I am in the situation/environment, the more intensive are my emotions.

situational context and mood intensity model

The results of the third model indicated that stress levels are related to my engagement in the situation, valence of the situation, and levels of competence. I seem to be more stressed when I am more involved in the situation, when the context of the situation is less favorable to me, and when I am less competent at handling it.

situational context and stress model

The fourth model looks how situational context affects my happiness. It seems that I am more happy when the context of the situation is more favorable to me, and when I am handling it well.

situational context and happiness model

Finally, the fifth model looks at the relationship between the situational context and my self-esteem. As you can see, my sense of worth is affected by more social nature of the situation and its valence.

situational context and self esteem model

Of course, the assumption of causality and directions of the relationships in these models are questionable. It may as well be the mood, stress or self-esteem that affect my perception of the environment or situational context, and consequently, my responses. Still, I think this approach has a great potential, and at the end of this summer, when I accumulate more data, I will conduct additional analyses. Stay tuned!


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