Measuring the Frequency of Inner-Experience Characteristics

Russell T. Hurlburt*, Christopher L. Heavey, Leiszle Lapping-Carr, Alek E. Krumm, Stefanie A. Moynihan, Cody Kaneshiro, Vincent P. Brouwers, Dio K. Turner, Jason M. Kelsey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Inner experience is widely accepted by psychologists and lay people as being straightforwardly observable: Inner speech, visual images, feelings, and so on are understood to be directly apprehendable “before the footlights of consciousness.” Many psychologists hold that such characteristics of inner experience play substantial theoretical roles and have applied significance across a wide range of cognitive, affective, performance, and clinical situations. If so, the frequency of occurrence of these characteristics is of fundamental importance. Such frequencies are usually estimated by questionnaires or by questionnaire-based experience sampling. However, there are reasons to wonder about the accuracy of such questionnaire-based estimates. We present three studies that compared, head-to-head, questionnaire-based experiential frequencies with frequencies discovered using descriptive experience sampling (DES), a method for random sampling in the natural environment that aspires to apprehend inner experience with as high fidelity as the state of the art allows. Together, they suggest that estimates of inner-experience frequency produced by questionnaires and DES are irreconcilably discrepant: Questionnaire-based methods produced dramatically higher (from 2 to 4 times as high) frequencies than did DES. These results suggest caution when interpreting questionnaire-based experiential results and the importance of additional high-fidelity studies of inner experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)559-571
Number of pages13
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • descriptive experience sampling
  • experience sampling
  • inner experience
  • inner speech
  • questionnaire
  • self-talk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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