We describe an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) protocol designed to measure daily life experiences along several psychosocial dimensions (Social Conflict, Task Demand, Decisional Control, Negative Affect, and Arousal) hypothesized to be relevant for cardiovascular disease risk. In a large community sample, these assessments have been administered in conjunction with ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) monitoring and measures of subclinical cardiovascular disease. Several results have emerged that support the promise of this approach. First of all, each of these dimensions of experience appears to be a trigger for cardiovascular activation, with movement on each scale being associated with significant within-person changes in heart rate and blood pressure in the natural environment. Second, there appear to be individual differences in physiological responsiveness to these dimensions of daily experience, with such differences being associated in some cases with laboratory-based assessments of cardiovascular reactivity, as might be expected. Third, EMA ratings are associated in several instances with (between-person) stable individual differences in ABP readings. And finally, we have found that some of the characteristics defined by our EMA ratings are related to measures of subclinical atherosclerosis. Such effects appear to be mediated, in part, by ABP. The advantages of using EMA measures for capturing the effects of psychosocial stressors are highlighted by comparing the predictive validity of these daily life assessments to traditional global self-reports. We conclude by describing future plans for use of this type of assessment protocol for helping us to characterize psychosocial characteristics relevant to cardiovascular disease risk. Personality and social processes during daily living may have an important impact not only on psychological functioning but also on physical health and disease. In this article we review our recent work involving the assessment of daily experience as a means of better understanding the role of psychosocial stress in cardiovascular disease risk. First, we outline the rationale for our interest in daily experience sampling for examining these processes, and we describe the methods we have adopted for this purpose. Next, we review findings from a recent study in which we have used these approaches to examine the role of psychosocial stress on ABP and atherosclerosis in a community-dwelling sample. We compare our approach to more traditional (global self-report and laboratory-observation) methods for examining these relationships in humans, and we discuss potential future directions for use of daily experience sampling in studies of health and behavior.
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