Continuous Detection of Physiological Stress with Commodity Hardware

Picture of Gunnar Pope
Gunnar Pope
Picture of Sarah Lord
Sarah Lord
Picture of Stephanie Lewia
Stephanie Lewia
Picture of Byron Lowens
Byron Lowens
Picture of Kelly Caine
Kelly Caine
Picture of Sougata Sen
Sougata Sen
Picture of Ryan Halter
Ryan Halter
Picture of David Kotz
David Kotz
Published at ACM Trans. Comput. Healthcare (HEALTH) 2020


Timely detection of an individual’s stress level has the potential to improve stress management, thereby reducing the risk of adverse health consequences that may arise due to mismanagement of stress. Recent advances in wearable sensing have resulted in multiple approaches to detect and monitor stress with varying levels of accuracy. The most accurate methods, however, rely on clinical-grade sensors to measure physiological signals; they are often bulky, custom made, and expensive, hence limiting their adoption by researchers and the general public. In this article, we explore the viability of commercially available off-the-shelf sensors for stress monitoring. The idea is to be able to use cheap, nonclinical sensors to capture physiological signals and make inferences about the wearer’s stress level based on that data. We describe a system involving a popular off-the-shelf heart rate monitor, the Polar H7; we evaluated our system with 26 participants in both a controlled lab setting with three well-validated stress-inducing stimuli and in free-living field conditions. Our analysis shows that using the off-the-shelf sensor alone, we were able to detect stressful events with an F1-score of up to 0.87 in the lab and 0.66 in the field, on par with clinical-grade sensors.