A Complete, Unabridged, “Pre-Registered” Descriptive Experience Sampling Investigation: The Case of Lena

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Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

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Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) attempts to apprehend in high fidelity pristine inner experience (the naturally-occurring, directly-apprehended phenomena that fill our waking lives, including inner speaking, visual imagery, sensory awarenesses, etc.). Previous DES investigations had shown individual differences in the frequency of inner speaking ranging from nearly zero to nearly 100% of the time. In early 2020, the Internet was ablaze with comments expressing astonishment that constant internal monologue was not universal. We invited Lena, a university student who believed she had constant internal monologue, to participate in a DES analog of a pre-registered study: We would announce, on the Internet, that we would conduct a fully transparent DES investigation and roll out videos of the DES interviews (and annotated transcripts) as they occurred in (almost) real-time, something like “reality TV about inner experience,” so that spectators could examine for themselves our characterizations of Lena and how we arrived at them. We describe here the procedure and its findings: Lena did not have frequent internal monologue (contrary to her expectations); she did have frequent visual imagery (to her surprise); and we speculated about the frequent presence of two simultaneous “centers of gravity” of her experience. The entire procedure is available for inspection.


Descriptive experience sampling; Pre-registered study; Cognition; Case study


Cognitive Psychology



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