Words for Mood Measurement
mood & emotion
Jon presented his Words for Mood Measurement self-tracking project at the Bay Area Quantified Self meetup on April 19, 2016. Jon shares his experiments with Word Stem Completion tasks to better understand his mood. These exercises are a kind of projective test in which he consults with Dr. Roy Baumeister’s to help understand the psychology behind the tasks.
Word Stem Completion
I’d like you to take part in a short experiment. With those three letters up there I’d like you to form a word by using those as the start of your word, a word that kind of sums up how you’re feeling at the moment.
So let’s start with what did I do. Psychologists, when they want to find out something about somebody usually ask direct questions. They say that it’s best to ask a direct question if you want to find out something. I don’t think this is necessarily wrong because it is after all the way I’ve been tracking my own mood for about nine years now. Every morning I ask myself some direct questions.
But it seems to me doing that is a bit well, it’s a bit obvious really. It’s a bit like going to see a therapist and them saying to you, tell me how you are then I’ll tell you how you are. Then I’ll send you a bill for $200.
It’s a bit obvious and it would seem to me that it would be nice to come up with something that was less obvious and a bit projective. And I’ve always liked projective tests like the Rorschach blot test that isn’t actually asking people exactly how they feel, but it’s getting under the skin. I wanted to see whether there was some kind of projective test that might measure mood in an accurate way, and I did find a way of doing that. And I’m going to tell you what I did.
So, I came across word stem completion as an idea to measure mood by looking at the work of Dr. Roy Baumeister from Florida State University. Dr. Baumeister was the co-author of the bookWillpower which came out fairly recently. And he done some work in 2007 where he gave word stems to people and asked them to complete the word.
So, for instance he gave them JO and ANG, and asked people to add letters to form words. And that could be done in a way that was emotional. So you could add a Y to JO and come up with JOY, or an ER onto ANG and come up with ANGER. Alternatively, you could finish those words off just in a vey unemotional way and coming up with things like JOB or ANGLE.
So I contacted Dr. Baumeister to learn more about what he did. So I came up with a list of words that had been rated by a panel for emotional valence. And what we mean by emotional valence is how positive or negative a word is. When you look at this word does it make you feel positive or negative. So for instance, if you took the word JOY that would have a positive valence, obviously the word ANGER a negative valence and SHELLFISH a neutral valence unless you had a dodgy shrimp the night before.
So, researchers at McMasters University in Canada used workers from the mechanical Turk. They paid them a small amount of money to look at in total between 14,000 words and rate them for there emotional valence on a scale of 1 to 9. So, at one end of the scale words made people feel happy or delighted. And at the other end of the scale, words made them feel annoyed or unhappy.
Researchers generously put all their data in the public domain, so I was able to get that data. I rescaled their results on a 1 to 14 basis to getting my daily score easier.
So the way I got a daily score is I produced a daily test book for myself, and each morning I asked myself to complete seven word stems, and also at the same I calculated my mood using a kind of conventional measure of mood.
And then after completing the word stems, I had another little book which had all the words in a valence list and I made another little booklet so that each day I could look up the words I come up with that kind of seemed to represent my mood in this valence list.
I did this for one month for myself and then I invited my blog readers to do a one-day exercise and had 500 people take the word stem completion test and a standard test of mood. And what I learned was that in general actually for me the two measures, the word stem completion test and the conventional test of mood were pretty good. They correlated fairly well, and as you’ll see from the graph that the two lines are fairly close together. So as my mood went up and down, my word stem completion test went up and down, with the exception of two days.
Basically there were two days that were very different so it was fun to do, but it did seem that there were big differences on two days. And when I looked back in my diary, I realized that actually, there had been something quite heavy going on that wasn’t being picked up in the conventional mood test. So I think this kind of projective nature has the possibility, the potential to pick up something that simply asking somebody how they’re feeling won’t pick up.
When I looked at the blog readers, 500 of those as I say did those tests, there was a pretty good correlation of +0.47, so it did seem to be a good way of measuring mood. And people enjoyed it. People said they liked doing that, but they came up with some astonishing words and also appalling spelling, absolutely appalling. They were British most of them and the school system in the UK is terrible. So lots and lots of different words.
And it seemed to me they were going on maybe some kind of multiple choice approach might be better, so rather than allowing people free entry that multiple choice would work. And also I think that there would be opportunities for this to be used when it was going to be hard to measure mood in other ways, so with kids for instance. I could see that getting them to complete words could be a really, really interesting way of measuring mood when they wouldn’t be able to tell you how they feel.
Right, these are the words that the mechanical Turk people came up with. A score of 100 is as happy as it gets, a score of 0 is as low as it gets. If your exact word isn’t there, there might be a word that’s kind of similar to the word that you picked. And I have to say that if your word isn’t there at all, you should feel completely happy because it’s showing that you’ve got a totally original mind and not just kind of one of these mechanical Turk people.
What I’ve done is I’ve put all of that data on a Google docs page, it’s a bit.ly/QSjon and as a great plug, as of tomorrow morning I’m on the radio once a week on Wednesday’s from 6 AM to 9 AM. I’m doing a radio show on KZSU 90.1 FM, and I’d love to have your company and thank you for listening.