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Summary of 2014 US National 
Academy of Sciences Report on 
Subjective Wellbeing 
Arthur A. Stone 
Professor, Department of Psychology 
Director, USC Dornsife Center for Self-Report Science 
University of Southern California 
Disclosures: AAS is a Senior Scientist with the Gallup Organization, a Senior 
Consultant with ERT, inc., and a Consultant with Johnson & Johnson, inc.
Selected Conclusions and 
Recommendations from the NSA 
Report 
Panel on Measuring 
Subjective Wellbeing in a 
Policy-Relevant Framework 
Commissioned by the 
National Institute on Aging 
of the US National Institutes 
of Health and the UK 
Economic and Social 
Research Council. 
Extensive set of 
presentations to the Panel. 
Expert review of Panel’s 
report.
Panel Members
Panel’s Charge I 
 Review the current state of research and 
evaluate methods for measuring self-reported 
hedonic (or experienced) well-being that are 
useful for monitoring, informing, and policy 
analysis purposes. 
 The report should not assess the value of 
evaluative well-being measures.
Panel’s Charge II 
 Assess whether research on, and the methods to 
study, ExWB have advanced to a point that 
warrants the federal government collecting data 
in surveys and constructing indicators, accounts, 
or other statistics to inform social and economic 
policies.
Panel’s Charge III 
 Recommend strategies for implementing data 
collection on ExWB, or, if premature, outline work 
that needs to be done before moving 
measurement of ExWB to statistical agency 
agendas.
Report Table of Contents 
1. Introduction 
2. Conceptualizing Experienced (Hedonic) Wellbeing 
3. Measuring Experienced Wellbeing 
4. Additional Conceptual and Measurement Issues 
5. Subjective Wellbeing and Policy 
6. Data Collection Strategies 
A total of 18 Conclusions and 15 Recommendations
Importance of Acknowledging and 
Employing Experiential SWB Measures 
CONCLUSION 2.1 
ExWB is distinctive enough from overall life evaluation to 
warrant pursuing it as a separate element in surveys; their 
level of independence demands that they be assessed as 
distinct dimensions.
Experiential WB has both Positive 
and Negative Components; Both 
need to be considered 
CONCLUSION 2.3 
Both positive and negative emotions must be accounted for 
in ExWB measurement Assessments of ExWB should include 
both positive and negative dimensions in order for 
meaningful inferences to be drawn.
A Focus on Suffering has been 
Overlooked 
RECOMMENDATION 2.2 
A scale of suffering that has a duration dimension would be a 
useful measurement construct and should be developed. Such 
a measure might capture and distinguish between things like 
minutes of pain or stress versus ongoing poverty, hunger, etc.
Experienced Subjective Wellbeing 
should include Pain 
RECOMMENDATION 2.5 
Pain may be an important dimension of ExWB given that it 
affects people’s ability to engage in day-to-day activities.
Meaning of Experiences should be 
Measured 
CONCLUSION 2.4 
An important part of people’s experiences may be 
overlooked if concepts associated with purpose and 
purposelessness are not included alongside hedonic 
ones like pleasure and pain in measures of ExWB.
Sophisticated methods for assessing 
Experiential WB will not be practical 
in many applications 
CONCLUSION 3.1 
Momentary assessment methods are often regarded as the gold 
standard for capturing experiential states. However, these methods 
have not typically been practical for general population surveys 
because they involve highly intensive methods, are difficult to scale 
up to the level of nationally representative surveys
Despite extensive use in literature, 
more validation for Day 
Reconstruction Method 
RECOMMENDATION 3.3 
Additional research is needed to better establish the 
evidence base for determining when the DRM is an 
adequate substitute for EMA methods of measuring ExWB.
Brief Description of the BLS’s 
American Time Use Study (ATUS) 
 The standard in the US for time use 
 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 
 Data collection is via CATI 
 Activity blocks are systematically captured through the day 
 Coded with three-tier system, yielding tremendous activity 
specificity 
 Interview takes between 15-20 minutes 
 Experimental WB Module 2010 data 
 0ver 12,000 respondents 
 Sampled 3 random episodes from each respondent’s day 
 2012 now available
Strong support for continuing and 
expanding the American Time Use 
Survey 
RECOMMENDATION 3.4 
While it may not be practical to run the ATUS as a full DRM— 
although this would yield very valuable Information— it may 
be possible to explore differences between the ATUS SWB 
module and a full DRM by using a pilot consisting of a 
sample of ATUS respondents. 
CONCLUSION 3.6 
Capturing the time-use and activity details of survey 
respondents enhances the policy relevance of ExWB 
measures by embedding information about relationships 
between emotional states and specific activities of daily 
life.
Cultural effects on SWB need to be 
better understood 
RECOMMENDATION 4.1 
More study is needed about the role of cultural effects on 
ExWB. In particular, the value placed on high-arousal positive 
states versus low-arousal positive states and the acceptance 
of negative states, like anger and sadness, likely varies 
considerably by age and cultural context, which suggests that 
subpopulations assess ExWB differently.
There are Methodological Issues that 
need further work 
RECOMMENDATION 4.3 
Given the potential magnitude of survey mode and 
contextual effects (as shown in findings related to work by ONS 
and elsewhere), research on the magnitude of these effects 
and methods for mitigating them should be a priority for 
statistical agencies during the process of experimentation and 
testing of new SWB modules.
SWB Adaptation to Environments is 
not fully understood and can 
Impact Policy Implications 
CONCLUSION 4.1 
The evidence with regard to adaptation suggests that it 
cannot be characterized as a process that occurs uniformly; 
people adapt differently to different events and life changes, 
in some part due to norms and expectations. Ideally, question 
structures should be designed to allow researchers to 
decompose changes in response scores into scale 
recalibration (or other measurement errors) and true quality-of-life 
change components.
Experiential WB may have a specific 
Niche for Policy Decisions 
CONCLUSION 5.1 
ExWB data are most relevant and valuable for 
informing specific, targeted policy questions, as opposed to 
general monitoring purposes. At this time, the panel is skeptical 
about the usefulness of an aggregate measure intended to 
track some average of an entire population.
The Core Recommendation 
Experiential SWB as a National 
Statistic 
RECOMMENDATION 6.1 
ExWB measurement should, at this point, still be pursued in 
experimental survey modules. The panel encourages inclusion of 
ExWB questions in a wide range of surveys so that the properties 
of data generated by them can be studied further; at this time, 
ExWB questions should only be considered for inclusion in flagship 
surveys on a piloted basis. Numerous unresolved methodological 
issues, such as mode and question-order effects, question 
wording, and interpretation of response biases need to be better 
understood before a module should be considered for 
implementation on a permanent basis.
Look for Opportunities to Use 
Experiential SWB in Ongoing Surveys 
RECOMMENDATION 6.2 
ExWB questions or modules should be included (or should 
continue to be included) in surveys where a strong case for 
subject-matter relevance can be made—those used to address 
targeted questions where SWB links have been well researched 
and where plausible associations to important outcomes can be 
tested.
Charge to the OECD meeting 
 Are we in agreement with the primary conclusion of 
the NAS report? 
 Are the recommendations advanced in the report 
to out liking? 
 Are there new approaches for addressing any of the 
concerns implied in the recommendation?

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HLEG thematic workshop on "Multidimensional Subjective Well-being", Arthur Stone

  • 1. Summary of 2014 US National Academy of Sciences Report on Subjective Wellbeing Arthur A. Stone Professor, Department of Psychology Director, USC Dornsife Center for Self-Report Science University of Southern California Disclosures: AAS is a Senior Scientist with the Gallup Organization, a Senior Consultant with ERT, inc., and a Consultant with Johnson & Johnson, inc.
  • 2. Selected Conclusions and Recommendations from the NSA Report Panel on Measuring Subjective Wellbeing in a Policy-Relevant Framework Commissioned by the National Institute on Aging of the US National Institutes of Health and the UK Economic and Social Research Council. Extensive set of presentations to the Panel. Expert review of Panel’s report.
  • 4. Panel’s Charge I  Review the current state of research and evaluate methods for measuring self-reported hedonic (or experienced) well-being that are useful for monitoring, informing, and policy analysis purposes.  The report should not assess the value of evaluative well-being measures.
  • 5. Panel’s Charge II  Assess whether research on, and the methods to study, ExWB have advanced to a point that warrants the federal government collecting data in surveys and constructing indicators, accounts, or other statistics to inform social and economic policies.
  • 6. Panel’s Charge III  Recommend strategies for implementing data collection on ExWB, or, if premature, outline work that needs to be done before moving measurement of ExWB to statistical agency agendas.
  • 7. Report Table of Contents 1. Introduction 2. Conceptualizing Experienced (Hedonic) Wellbeing 3. Measuring Experienced Wellbeing 4. Additional Conceptual and Measurement Issues 5. Subjective Wellbeing and Policy 6. Data Collection Strategies A total of 18 Conclusions and 15 Recommendations
  • 8. Importance of Acknowledging and Employing Experiential SWB Measures CONCLUSION 2.1 ExWB is distinctive enough from overall life evaluation to warrant pursuing it as a separate element in surveys; their level of independence demands that they be assessed as distinct dimensions.
  • 9. Experiential WB has both Positive and Negative Components; Both need to be considered CONCLUSION 2.3 Both positive and negative emotions must be accounted for in ExWB measurement Assessments of ExWB should include both positive and negative dimensions in order for meaningful inferences to be drawn.
  • 10. A Focus on Suffering has been Overlooked RECOMMENDATION 2.2 A scale of suffering that has a duration dimension would be a useful measurement construct and should be developed. Such a measure might capture and distinguish between things like minutes of pain or stress versus ongoing poverty, hunger, etc.
  • 11. Experienced Subjective Wellbeing should include Pain RECOMMENDATION 2.5 Pain may be an important dimension of ExWB given that it affects people’s ability to engage in day-to-day activities.
  • 12. Meaning of Experiences should be Measured CONCLUSION 2.4 An important part of people’s experiences may be overlooked if concepts associated with purpose and purposelessness are not included alongside hedonic ones like pleasure and pain in measures of ExWB.
  • 13. Sophisticated methods for assessing Experiential WB will not be practical in many applications CONCLUSION 3.1 Momentary assessment methods are often regarded as the gold standard for capturing experiential states. However, these methods have not typically been practical for general population surveys because they involve highly intensive methods, are difficult to scale up to the level of nationally representative surveys
  • 14. Despite extensive use in literature, more validation for Day Reconstruction Method RECOMMENDATION 3.3 Additional research is needed to better establish the evidence base for determining when the DRM is an adequate substitute for EMA methods of measuring ExWB.
  • 15. Brief Description of the BLS’s American Time Use Study (ATUS)  The standard in the US for time use  Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)  Data collection is via CATI  Activity blocks are systematically captured through the day  Coded with three-tier system, yielding tremendous activity specificity  Interview takes between 15-20 minutes  Experimental WB Module 2010 data  0ver 12,000 respondents  Sampled 3 random episodes from each respondent’s day  2012 now available
  • 16. Strong support for continuing and expanding the American Time Use Survey RECOMMENDATION 3.4 While it may not be practical to run the ATUS as a full DRM— although this would yield very valuable Information— it may be possible to explore differences between the ATUS SWB module and a full DRM by using a pilot consisting of a sample of ATUS respondents. CONCLUSION 3.6 Capturing the time-use and activity details of survey respondents enhances the policy relevance of ExWB measures by embedding information about relationships between emotional states and specific activities of daily life.
  • 17. Cultural effects on SWB need to be better understood RECOMMENDATION 4.1 More study is needed about the role of cultural effects on ExWB. In particular, the value placed on high-arousal positive states versus low-arousal positive states and the acceptance of negative states, like anger and sadness, likely varies considerably by age and cultural context, which suggests that subpopulations assess ExWB differently.
  • 18. There are Methodological Issues that need further work RECOMMENDATION 4.3 Given the potential magnitude of survey mode and contextual effects (as shown in findings related to work by ONS and elsewhere), research on the magnitude of these effects and methods for mitigating them should be a priority for statistical agencies during the process of experimentation and testing of new SWB modules.
  • 19. SWB Adaptation to Environments is not fully understood and can Impact Policy Implications CONCLUSION 4.1 The evidence with regard to adaptation suggests that it cannot be characterized as a process that occurs uniformly; people adapt differently to different events and life changes, in some part due to norms and expectations. Ideally, question structures should be designed to allow researchers to decompose changes in response scores into scale recalibration (or other measurement errors) and true quality-of-life change components.
  • 20. Experiential WB may have a specific Niche for Policy Decisions CONCLUSION 5.1 ExWB data are most relevant and valuable for informing specific, targeted policy questions, as opposed to general monitoring purposes. At this time, the panel is skeptical about the usefulness of an aggregate measure intended to track some average of an entire population.
  • 21. The Core Recommendation Experiential SWB as a National Statistic RECOMMENDATION 6.1 ExWB measurement should, at this point, still be pursued in experimental survey modules. The panel encourages inclusion of ExWB questions in a wide range of surveys so that the properties of data generated by them can be studied further; at this time, ExWB questions should only be considered for inclusion in flagship surveys on a piloted basis. Numerous unresolved methodological issues, such as mode and question-order effects, question wording, and interpretation of response biases need to be better understood before a module should be considered for implementation on a permanent basis.
  • 22. Look for Opportunities to Use Experiential SWB in Ongoing Surveys RECOMMENDATION 6.2 ExWB questions or modules should be included (or should continue to be included) in surveys where a strong case for subject-matter relevance can be made—those used to address targeted questions where SWB links have been well researched and where plausible associations to important outcomes can be tested.
  • 23. Charge to the OECD meeting  Are we in agreement with the primary conclusion of the NAS report?  Are the recommendations advanced in the report to out liking?  Are there new approaches for addressing any of the concerns implied in the recommendation?