Research Cases

The Past, Present, and Future of Measuring Change

By April, 2016 No Comments
Grandmother, Children, Grandchildren Pose for Selfie, Care Home in Background

Peter MeindlPh.D student, Department of Psychology, University of Southern California

Christopher Wiese Ph.D.Post-Doctoral Researcher, Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University

Sidney D’Mello, Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame; Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Notre Dame

Louis Tay, Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University

Angela Duckworth, Ph.D.Founder and Scientific Director, Character Lab Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

Date Published
April, 2016

How do people change over time? To answer this question requires measuring change, a challenge that has traditionally been approached by simply making two or more assessments at separate points in time. In this article, we consider self-control as an illustrative case and examine what strides have been made since the earliest historical attempts at its measurement, the current state of measurement science, and our hopes for the future. We consider three different timescales over which change can be measured: short-term state changes in self-control over periods of seconds or minutes; medium-term changes in self-control over days or weeks; and long-term changes in trait self-control over years and decades. For each of these timescales, we propose promising avenues for measurement that capitalize on advances in both technology and theory, particularly with regard to a new large-scale longitudinal study: The Human Project. We consider how advances in instrumentation could advance theory and vice versa and, finally, the idea that measurement itself constitutes an intervention. The Human Project will allow researchers the opportunity to measure changes in self-control across different timescales thanks to a combination of automated data collection and surveying software and the novel use of mobile technologies.