Page last updated: September 24, 2012
Using smartphone technology to compare in-vivo and retrospective recorded alcohol consumption

A research project published by Alcohol Research UK explored how smartphone technology can be used to provide a real-time measurement of alcohol consumption, and how such in-vivo reporting compares with memory-dependent accounts of alcohol consumption. Reseachers also assessed the contextual factors which might mediate accuracy of self-reported alcohol consumption.

Overall results suggest that in-vivo and retrospective reports of alcohol consumption are not consistent with each other. Participants’ reports about their previous day’s drinking were significantly lower than the accounts supplied during that day (invivo responses). This effect was also apparent when participants were asked to recall their previous week’s consumption. Daily retrospective reports for beer/cider, wine, and spirits all appeared to be significantly under-reported when compared with in-vivo accounts. This effect was particularly apparent in certain environmental contexts (bars/pubs/blubs, parties, other’s homes), whilst reports from other environmental contexts (home and work) did not appear to be associated with significant retrospective under-reporting in comparison to in-vivo assessment.

For weekly drinking reports the observed difference between in-vivo and retrospective reports, the amount of beer or cider reportedly consumed was significantly lower retrospectively, whilst other drink types (wine, spirits, other) did not appear to vary significantly between report periods. Follow up and qualitative reports from participants indicate that participants enjoyed taking part in the research and found the application easy to use. However, they reported that the task of recalling their past drinking was difficult (both the day and the week after in-vivo assessment), and suggested that there may have been some degree of guessing. These qualitative data appear to corroborate the quantitative findings.

The authors conclude that retrospective self-reports regarding personal alcohol consumption may not provide a reliable account of in-vivo alcohol consumption, a problem which is evident in both daily and weekly retrospective accounts. Recalling one’s alcohol consumption from the previous day may be particularly difficult when drinking has occurred in certain environments such as bars and parties. Caution may therefore be warranted with regards to the extent to which retrospective alcohol consumption measures are reliable, or when such reports form the basis of clinical categorisation. They argue that the alcohol research community has been overly reliant on retrospective self-report measures which appear to differ from consumption levels measured in real time. The use of smartphone technology offers a viable and contextually sensitive solution to measuring real-time alcohol consumption. By introducing novel cost effective ways of measuring alcohol consumption, this research possibly constitutes a first-step towards the development of more robust alcohol measurement techniques, they state.

Source: “I have no clue what I drunk last night” Using smartphone technology to compare in-vivo and retrospective recorded alcohol consumption. Rebecca L. Monk, Derek Heim, Alan Price (Edge Hill University). Alcohol research UK Alcohol Insight Number 113.

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