January 11, 2017

RTC:Rural researcher completes dissertation focusing on disability and wellbeing

Jennifer Wong headshotThe RTC:Rural celebrates the accomplishments of Research Associate Jennifer Wong, who completed her doctoral dissertation in Experimental Psychology at The University of Montana in December 2016.

Her dissertation, part of the RTC: Rural’s Ecology of Participation project, titled “Purpose and Satisfaction in Activities in Rural Communities Using Ecological Momentary Assessment,” explores the relationships among purpose, satisfaction, and happiness during daily activities as they relate to wellbeing.

“We know there is a difference between people with disabilities and those without impairments,” Wong said, “but not the details of how they’re different, or what is different.” In addition, Dr. Wong is also interested in how wellbeing is associated with how individuals feel in relation to how they fit in their environment.

After analyzing the data, Wong says she “can say with confidence that purpose and satisfaction in daily activities are good predictors of wellbeing.” She also found that satisfaction of daily activities is positively associated with person-environment fit during that moment.

Wong found that those who were happier early in the day also tended to feel more satisfied and feel their activities had more purpose later in the day. Satisfaction early in the day was also linked to a more positive sense of person-environment fit later in the day. These results, said Wong, could be used to develop interventions that aim to increase happiness earlier in the day, which could result in a greater feeling of wellbeing throughout the day.

Dr. Wong’s research adds to RTC:Rural research on Person-Environment Fit, which seeks to understand how characteristics of the individual and environmental features interact and influence community engagement.

Jennifer Wong in Soda Springs, IDIn addition to analyzing a subset of the data collected as part of the Ecology of Participation Longitudinal Survey, Wong used Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) methods to collect data from participants living in Soda Springs, Idaho, and Havre, Montana. EMA studies rely on recording in-the-moment responses to a set of survey questions. For this study, the 25 participants were regularly prompted to answer survey questions on handheld EMA devices, which are small touchscreen devices similar to smartphones.

Traditionally, psychologists have used retrospective recall to ask people about their wellbeing by having them fill out surveys at the end of the day or by collecting information about their lives overall. This has allowed researchers to understand overall wellbeing, but not see how it changes throughout the day. EMA is a stronger methodology that allows researchers to capture dynamic individual-environment relationships.

“EMA allows us to study variance within a single individual, not just between individuals,” said Wong, which overcomes a limitation of previous studies.

Each wave of Wong’s study ran for 14 days, during which each participant was prompted to answer 8 to 10 mini-surveys per day via their EMA device. Each survey was designed to take between one and two minutes to complete.

The survey questions asked participants to list their location, the type of activity they were currently engaged in, and then to rank the purpose of their current activity and their satisfaction with that activity. Participants were also asked to rank their general level of happiness, unrelated to their current activity.

The EMA devices were also GPS enabled, and tracked the participant’s movements. When a participant moved location and remained in a new location for at least 10 minutes, the device prompted a different set of survey questions.

In addition to location and activity questions, the GPS-enabled survey asked questions pertaining to person-environment fit, asking participants to rank the following:

  • The values of the people here reflect my own values
  • There is a good fit between what this place offers me and what I need
  • I have the ability to meet the demands of this situation
  • I am similar to the other people here
  • My presence contributes to what is happening here

As Wong puts the finishing edits on her dissertation manuscript, she will continue her work at the RTC:Rural to assist with completing the data analysis on other aspects of the Ecology of Participation project.

“I am very grateful for the training, support, and guidance I have experienced during my time at the RTC:Rural and provided by my mentors, Craig Ravesloot and Tom Seekins,” says Wong.

Jennifer WongCongratulations on your accomplishments Dr. Jennifer Wong!

Click here to read Jennifer Wong’s full bio.