Truth lies in the skin
September 14, 2016
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Dare to tap into the unconscious and learn what triggers emotional behavior. Why is it that some things more than others make us smile or give us the creeps, drive us insane or let us jump from joy?

One of the most sensitive measures for emotional arousal is Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), also referred to as Electrodermal Activity (EDA) or Skin Conductance (SC). Our skin gives away a lot of information on how we feel when we’re exposed to different kinds of stimuli – both positive and negative. No matter whether we are stressed, nervous, fearful, psyched up, baffled, happy or surprised – whenever we are emotionally aroused, the electrical conductivity of our skin subtly changes.

To understand how GSR works, have a look at the physiological characteristics of the largest organ of the human body – the skin. Our skin functions as the principal interface between organism and environment. Together with other organs, it is responsible for bodily processes such as the immune system, thermo-regulation, and sensory-motor exploration. As protective barrier, the skin separates our body from the environment and its threats, mechanical impacts and pressure, variations in temperature, micro-organisms, radiation, etc. The skin controls body temperature by regulating sweat emission, piloerection and peripheral blood circulation. Also the skin is an organ of perception. It contains an extensive network of nerve cells that detect and relay changes in the environment based on the activity of receptors for temperature, pressure, and pain.

Another part of our bodies are sweat glands and there is about three million of them. The density of sweat glands varies markedly across the body, being highest on the forehead and cheeks, the palms and fingers as well as on the sole of the feet. Whenever sweat glands are triggered and become more active, they secrete moisture through pores towards the skin surface. By changing the balance of positive and negative ions in the secreted fluid, electrical current flows more readily, resulting in measurable changes in skin conductance (increased skin conductance = decreased skin resistance).

This change in skin conductance is generally termed Galvanic Skin Response (GSR).

While the primary purposes of sweat emission are thermoregulation and evaporative cooling, sweating on hands and feet is also triggered whenever we’re emotionally aroused.

Why is this important?

When we measure GSR, we can tap into our unconscious behavior, the part of ourselves which is not under our cognitive control. This makes biometric signal (GSR), very valuable in assessing emotional behavior. Skin conductivity is solely modulated by autonomic sympathetic activity that drives bodily processes, cognitive and emotional states as well as cognition on an entirely subconscious level. We simply cannot consciously control the level of skin conductivity. Exactly this circumstance renders GSR the perfect marker for emotional arousal as it offers insights into physiological and psychological state of a person.

How can we use this?

GSR responses are extremely easy to measure, possible applications cover a fascinating variety of fields in academic and commercial research. Psychological studies utilize GSR to identify how humans respond emotionally towards various stimuli and how these responses are affected by stimulus properties (color, shape, duration of presentation), personality characteristics (extraverts vs. introverts), social expectancies and the interaction of cultural aspects and individual learning histories. Clinical usage for populations such as patients suffering from eating disorders, phobias or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) show heightened fear responses and emotional arousal to trauma reminders. Also, autonomous responses towards threatening stimuli typically do not subside even in the presence of safety reminders. Over the course of a cognitive-behavioral therapy, however, GSR can be monitored during exposition or relaxation trainings in order to provide a quantitative measure of the physiological arousal of the patient and assess the severity of the disease as well as the success of the therapeutic intervention.

GSR application in our software and hardware product Meridda

Meridda uses advanced biometric sensing technology from wearable device to measure variations in your GSR and body temperature and machine learning algorithms to decode cues from your body, mind and lifestyle. Scientifically our technology is based on integration of biofeedback therapy and other self -regulatory methods. Biofeedback therapy is a well-researched technique for helping people understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Through biofeedback, you can learn to achieve certain behaviors like reduction of stress controlled at will, physical relaxation, tension or relaxation of certain muscles. This happens by influencing your breathing, muscle tension, heartbeat, blood flow, and perspiratory glands, parts of your body that reflect the current state of your nervous system.

 

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