Methods & Meta-science

The Situated Assessment Method (SAM^2): A new approach to measuring, understanding, and predicting health behaviours

Based on theories of situated cognition and embodiment in cognitive science, the Situated Assessment Method (SAM^2) offers a theoretically motivated approach for measuring health behaviours at both the group and individual levels. Rather than attempting to capture a health behaviour with general items that abstract over relevant situations (as in standard self-report instruments), SAM^2 assesses two situated dimensions. First, SAM^2 establishes the specific situations associated with an individual’s behaviour in a health domain. Second, SAM^2 samples features from the situated action cycle that attempt to predict the behaviour across situations. As a result, SAM^2 establishes overall measures of a health behaviour grounded directly in situational experience, along with features of the situated action cycle that predict the behaviour. In recent studies, we have found that SAM^2 does an excellent job of predicting health behaviours associated with habits, eating, stress, and trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling). Using mixed effects models, SAM^2 typically explains 60 to 80% of the variance at the group level and more variance at the individual level, demonstrating large systematic individual differences. In addition, SAM^2 represents individual differences in an explicit manner that has potential for supporting individuals as they understand and work with a health behaviour. Issues associated with causality, explicit vs. implicit measures, and external validity are important to address.