Russ Hurlburt is the originator of thought sampling, inventing in 1973 the beeper that made it possible. By the early 1980s he had abandoned quantitative analysis of thought-sampling data in favor of attempting to apprehend inner experience as it naturally occurs, in the belief that phenomena should be carefully understood before they are quantified. Toward this end he created the descriptive experience sampling method (DES), authoring six books and many articles about the DES method and its results. He is also the author of a highly regarded statistics textbook.
This study provides a survey of phenomena that present themselves during moments of naturally occurring inner expe- rience. In our previous studies using Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) we have discovered five frequently occurring phenomena – inner speech, inner seeing, unsymbolized thinking, feelings, and sensory awareness. Here we quantify the rel- ative frequency of these phenomena. We used DES to describe 10 randomly identified moments of inner experience from each of 30 participants selected from a stratified sample of college students. We found that each of the five phenomena occurred in approximately one quarter of sampled moments, that the frequency of these phenomena varied widely across individuals, that there were no significant gender differences in the relative frequencies of these phenomena, and that higher frequencies of inner speech were associated with lower levels of psychological distress.
Our understanding of emotion cannot be complete without an understanding of feelings, the experiential aspect of emotion. Despite their importance, little effort has been devoted to the careful apprehension of feelings. Based on our apprehension of many randomly selected moments of pristine inner experience, we present a preliminary phenomenology of feelings. We begin by observing that often feelings occur as directly experienced phenomena of awareness; however, often no feelings are present in experience, or if they are present, they are too faint to be observed by a process intended to observe them. Feelings range from vague to distinct and sometimes do, but other times do not, include bodily sensations. When bodily sensations are present, there is a wide range of clarity and location of these sensations. Sometimes people experience multiple distinct feelings and sometimes people experience one feeling that is a mix or blend of different feelings. We also discuss what feelings are not, including instances when feelings do not appear to be present, despite evidence suggesting the presence of underlying emotional processes (e.g., behavioral evidence of emotion). These instances of emotion but not feeling lead us to speculate that experiencing feelings is a skill developed over time through an interaction of interpersonal and intrapersonal events. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)
Hurlburt R. T. (2017) Descriptive experience sampling. In: Schneider S. & Velmans M. (eds.) The Blackwell companion to consciousness. Second edition. Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ: 740–753.
Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) is an approach to apprehending and describing pristine inner experience in high fidelity. The DES participant wears a random beeper in her natural environments. The beep cues the participant to jot down notes about her inner experience that was ongoing at the moment of the beep. A subsequent expositional interview produces a description of the beeped experience. It is likely that the fidelity of those descriptions iteratively increases across sampling days as participant and investigator acquire skill at bracketing presuppositions about the nature of the participant’s experience.
Hurlburt R. T. (2018) Pristine Experience, the Feeling of Veracity, Iteration, and the Bracketing of Presuppositions. Constructivist Foundations 13(2): 232–235. https://cepa.info/4609
Open peer commentary on the article “Excavating Belief About Past Experience: Experiential Dynamics of the Reflective Act” by Urban Kordeš & Ema Demšar. Upshot: Based on 40 years of practice using descriptive experience sampling, I clarify three important ways that my view of reflective inquiry differs from that of Kordeš and Demšar. I differentiate between investigations that do and do not explore pristine experience, discuss the risks of using the feeling of veracity as a guide to an investigation, and distinguish between two importantly different kinds of iteration.
Hurlburt R. T. (2021) Yes, We are Blind to Inner Experience, but that is Not Necessarily the Origin of Ecological Disaster. Constructivist Foundations 16(2): 183–185. https://cepa.info/6952
Open peer commentary on the article “Anchoring in Lived Experience as an Act of Resistance” by Claire Petitmengin. Abstract: I accept that inner experience is underappreciated by science and laypersons, and that blindness to inner experience contributes to ecological disaster. However, I argue that the ecological disaster does not originate in that blindness.
Hurlburt R. T. & Akhter S. A. (2006) The Descriptive Experience Sampling method. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 5: 271–301. https://cepa.info/7803
Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) is a method for exploring inner experience. DES subjects carry a random beeper in natural environments; when the beep sounds, they capture their inner experience, jot down notes about it, and report it to an investigator in a subsequent expositional interview. DES is a fundamentally idiographic method, describing faithfully the pristine inner experiences of persons. Subsequently, DES can be used in a nomothetic way to describe the characteristics of groups of people who share some common characteristic. This paper describes DES and compares it to Petitmengin’s [Phenomenol Cogn Sci, this issue] second-person interview method.
Hurlburt R. T. & Akhter S. A. (2008) Unsymbolized thinking. Consciousness and Cognition 17(4): 1364–1374. https://cepa.info/7767
Unsymbolized thinking – the experience of an explicit, differentiated thought that does not include the experience of words, images, or any other symbols – is a frequently occurring yet little known phenomenon. Unsymbolized thinking is a distinct phenomenon, not merely, for example, an incompletely formed inner speech or a vague image, and is one of the ﬁve most common features of inner experience (the other four: inner speech, inner seeing, feelings, and sensory awareness). Despite its high frequency, many people, includ- ing many professional students of consciousness, believe that such an experience is impos- sible. However, because the existence of unsymbolized thinking indicates that much experienced thinking takes place without any experience of words or other symbols, acknowledging the existence of unsymbolized thinking may have substantial theoretical import.
It is claimed that psychological science can obtain accurate reports about people’s inner experience. We reconsider three criticisms of introspection: Nisbett and Wilson’s critical review of introspection, the failure of introspectionists to agree about imageless thought, and Skinner’s behavioral position. We show that rather than dismissing introspection, these criticisms point the way towards technical improvements in the methods used to produce accurate descriptions of inner experience. One such method, Descriptive Experience Sampling, is described and used as an example to illustrate our conclusion that, although exploring inner experience is not trivially easy, it can provide important knowledge for many areas in cognitive science.
Kaneshiro C. & Hurlburt R. T. (2020) Cleaving to the Moment, Cleaving to Experience, Bracketing Presuppositions, and the Iterative Method in the Apprehension of Pristine Inner Experience. Constructivist Foundations 15(3): 251–253. https://cepa.info/6601
Open peer commentary on the article “Visual Representation in the Wild: Empirical Phenomenological Investigation of Visual-spatial Working Memory in a Naturalistic Setting” by Aleš Oblak. Abstract: We review four constraints we judge to be necessary to the high-fidelity apprehension and description of inner experience: cleaving to specific moments, cleaving to pristine inner experience, bracketing presuppositions, and using an iterative method. With the aim of promoting discussion of inner-experience-exploration methods, we use methodological concerns in Oblak’s study of inner experience to provide concrete perspectives on those four constraints.