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New Evaluation of the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR): Obtrusiveness, Compliance, and Participant Self-selection Effects.


The Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) is a method for collecting periodic brief audio snippets of participants' daily lives using a portable recording device. The EAR can potentially intrude into people's privacy, alter their natural behavior, and introduce self-selection biases greater than in other types of social science methods. Previous research (Mehl and Holleran, 2007, hereafter M&H) has shown that participant non-compliance with, and perceived obtrusiveness of, an EAR protocol are both low. However, these questions have not been addressed in jurisdictions that require the consent of all parties to recording conversations. This EAR study required participants to wear a button bearing a microphone icon and the words "This conversation may be recorded" to comply with California's all-party consent law. Results revealed self-reported obtrusiveness and non-compliance were actually lower in the present study than in the M&H study. Behaviorally assessed non-compliance did not differ between the two studies. Participants in the present study talked more about being in the study than participants in the M&H study, but such talk still comprised <2% of sampled conversations. Another potential problem with the EAR, participant self-selection bias, was addressed by comparing the EAR volunteers' HEXACO personality dimensions to a non-volunteer sample drawn from the same student population. EAR volunteers were significantly and moderately higher in Conscientiousness, and lower in Emotionality, than non-volunteers. In conclusion, the EAR method can be successfully implemented in at least one all-party consent state (California). Interested researchers are encouraged to review this procedure with their own legal counsel.

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