Bradley Wright on SoulPulse
Date: June 1st, 2014

Help Research on Religion celebrate its 200th episode by telling three of your friends about this free educational resource!  And find out Tony’s personal results of the SoulPulse survey by “liking” our Facebook Fan Page.

What better way to celebrate 200 episodes of great educational podcasting than to look to the future of the social scientific study of religion with Prof. Bradley Wright, associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut!  Prof. Wright is engaged in new project called SoulPulse (link here) that harnesses the growing popularity of social media and cellular technology to study the daily spirituality of individual folks like you.  Even the grade school kids we have in studio for a field trip agree that SoulPulse represents the hottest trend in social scientific research methods.

Prof. Wright begins the podcast by discussing what SoulPulse is — a two week survey that is conducted twice daily at random intervals designed to probe a person’s spiritual experiences in relation to a set of other variables (e.g., amount of sleep, work stress, etc.).  Following an initial online screening questionnaire that takes about 10 minutes to complete, participants in this study are asked to fill out two surveys per day that take roughly 2-3 minutes to complete.  The surveys can be conducted on a cell phone or at a computer and attempt to capture what the research subject is experiencing and feeling at the moment.

Brad provides some detail about how this project came about, the struggles to get it off the ground, the researchers involved, and a discussion of the methods behind the survey.  This brings up issues ranging from “big data” to sampling and response bias.  Tony notes his fear of “big data,” but Brad puts him at ease by noting that while there are some technological similarities between harvesting “big data” and SoulPulse, the survey he is conducting is completely voluntary.  One of his volunteer subjects happens to be your host, Tony Gill, and thus our discussion of this study takes on a personal flavor as Tony mentions a number of features he likes about the study, as well as some minor concerns he has.

Brad runs down a list of intake and day-to-day questions that the survey asks.  The intake questions include the “usual suspects” of demographic data including age, gender, education, etc.  These are things that do not change of substantial periods of time.  There are also a few “not-so-usual” questions being asked including things about general health and religious beliefs and practices.  The day-to-day questions that research subjects receive on their phone twice a day tend to be things that are more “temporal,” including amount of sleep the night before, emotional mood at the moment, and one’s feelings towards God and others.  Brad notes that the advantage of “experience sampling” is that you capture somebody’s state of mind right at the moment they are living in, rather than having to have respondents retrospectively remember what they were doing hours or days earlier.  Many of these day-to-day questions are only asked once or twice during the two week survey, and Brad explains why.  We discuss the general motivation for what questions were being included and some of the difficulties he has encountered in inserting new questions.  While the SoulPulse study has a huge benefit in that it can constantly be modified as new questions arise, there are issues pertaining to research ethics that have to be cleared with ye olde “internal review board” (the bureaucracy that approves testing on human subjects).

A significant portion of our interview revolves around methodological issues, such as sampling bias, self-selection, question ordering, and a few other things that are common to survey research but which have a different flavor in “experience sampling.”  We find out that Tony really likes the sliding scale provided in SoulPulse as it allows for more fine-grained answers, but he debates Brad over whether or not the ability of the respondent to go back and change one’s answers based upon other questions is a good thing or not.  Typically in survey research you do not want subjects to change their answers to early questions based upon later questions, but Tony provides a slightly different take on this issue given how SoulPulse is set up.

We finish up the interview with some of the initial results from the survey, including who is using SoulPulse.  Interestingly, the respondents tend to skew a bit older than one would expect given that cell phones are the main survey methods.  Apparently us old folks can use smart phones!  Brad also reviews a number of other demographic characteristics of the survey respondents as well as some of the correlations that they are seeing.  What is the relation between sleep habits and spirituality?  Does preparing food make you more aware of God?  What about spending time on the computer … does it make you more or less spiritual?  Does one’s closeness to God vary throughout the day?  Does beer make one more religious?  Brad answers several of these questions and suggests what is next with the project.  Recorded: May 14, 2014.

RELATED LINKS

Bradley Wright’s bio at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Sociology.

SoulPulse, the study’s website where you can sign up for the study.

Bradley Wright’s personal blog.

Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, by  Bradley R.E. Wright.

Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World, by Bradley R.E. Wright.

RELATED PODCASTS

Bradley Wright on Christian Stereotypes.

Bradley Wright on the Upside of Life.

Alexander Ross on Religion & Happiness.

Frank Newport on Survey Research and America’s Religiosity.

Jeff Levin on Judaism and Health.

Jeff Levin on Religion and Health.

Rodney Stark on How Religion Benefits Everyone.


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