Trends in Ambulatory Self-Report: The Role of Momentary Experience in Psychosomatic Medicine

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In this article, we review the differences between momentary, retrospective, and trait self-report techniques and discuss the unique role that ambulatory reports of momentary experience play in psychosomatic medicine. After a brief historical review of self-report techniques, we discuss the latest perspective that links ambulatory self-reports to a qualitatively different conscious self—the “experiencing self”—which is functionally and neuroanatomically different from the “remembering” and “believing” selves measured through retrospective and trait questionnaires. The experiencing self functions to navigate current environments and is relatively more tied to the salience network and corporeal information from the body that regulates autonomic processes. As evidence, we review research showing that experiences measured through ambulatory assessment have stronger associations with cardiovascular reactivity, cortisol response, immune system function, and threat/reward biomarkers compared with memories or beliefs. By contrast, memories and beliefs play important roles in decision making and long-term planning, but they are less tied to bodily processes and more tied to default/long-term memory networks, which minimizes their sensitivity for certain research questions. We conclude with specific recommendations for using self-report questionnaires in psychosomatic medicine and suggest that intensive ambulatory assessment of experiences may provide greater sensitivity for connecting psychological with biologic processes.AbbreviationsAA = ambulatory assessmentANS = autonomic nervous systemCA/SAL = core affect/salience networkD/LTM = default/long-term memory networkHAM-D = Hamilton Rating Scale for DepressionHPA = hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axisIM = immune systemPDA = personal digital assistantSTM = short-term memory5-HTTLPR = 5-hydroxytryptamine transporter gene-linked polymorphic region

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