Abstract—We present a preliminary quantitative study aimed at
developing an optimal standard protocol for automatic classification of
specific affective states as related to human- computer interactions.
This goal is mainly achieved by comparing standard psychological test-
reports to quantitative measures derived from simultaneous non-
invasive acquisition of psychophysiological signals of interest, namely
respiration, galvanic skin response,
electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram. Forty-three healthy
students were exposed to computer-mediated stimuli, while wearable
non-invasive sensors were applied in order to collect the physiological
data. The stimuli were designed to elicit three distinct affective states:
relaxation, engagement and stress. In this work we report how our
quantitative analysis has helped in redefining important aspects of the
protocol, and we show preliminary findings related to the specific
psychophysiological patterns correlating with the three target affective
states. Results further suggest that some of the quantitative measures
might be useful in characterizing specific affective states.
blood volume pulse,
n the scientific literature, several studies have investigated
emotion classification during human-computer interactions by
means of biological signals  . For instance, the affective
computing group   carried out important research highlighting
the use of psycho-physiological measures in order to deduce
emotional states while performing different kinds of activity on a
PC. It would be a strategic innovation to integrate emotional
reactions into a computer mediated communication (CMC) system
in order to develop more successful and ergonomically designed
machines. Many studies have shown interesting results supporting
the feasibility to detect affective states by means of
phychophysiological data acquisitions and analysis, with the
critical purpose of correlating biological signals with emotional
reactions and translate findings into critical information for
innovative and pioneering computer-human interactions  .
Our initial research hypothesis is that a protocol for affective states
detection can rely on the acquisition and processing of specific
psycho-physiological signals. To this extent, this long-term
collaborative effort between
psychologists and engineers may provide the ideal environment for
such endeavor. In this paper we report the advancements achieved
in the last six years in defining a standard protocol for optimal
highly qualified teams of
Manuscript received April 23, 2010. This work was supported by NIH
Grants R01-HL084502, and DP1-OD003646.
M Mauri, P Cipresso and M Villamira are with IULM University of Milan,
Via Carlo Bo 2, 20143 Milan (phone: +39.02.89.141.2642; e-mail:
R Barbieri and EN Brown are with the Neuroscience Statistics Research
Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School,
Boston, MA 02114, USA and the Department of Brain and Cognitive
Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139,
USA (e-mail: Barbieri@neurostat.mit.edu, firstname.lastname@example.org )
L Mainardi and S Cerutti are with Dipartimento di Bioingegneria,
Politecnico di Milano, Milano,
email@example.com , Sergio.firstname.lastname@example.org )
V Magagnin is with Istituto Ortopedico IRCCS Galeazzi, Milano, Italy (e-
analysis of the correlation between biological patterns and affective
states. Overall, we have selected three prototypical laboratory
situations aimed to elicit three main affective states of interest, we
have opted for a single Psychological report and a finite collection
of biological signals, and we have established simple multimodal
quantitative analyses on the collected data in order to characterize
the affective states of interest and compare the derived indexes to
validated psychological measures. In the future, as our findings
recommend additional investigation, we envisage that further
refined physiological indexes will be the core of a technological
tool that will provide a quantitative feedback pointing at precise
affective states during human-computer interactions.
II. HARDWARE DESCRIPTION AND RECORDING
Data acquisition has been performed at the Clinical Research
Center at MIT using Flexcomp Infinity, a 10 channel USB PC
peripheral by Thought Technology. Every channel was
synchronously acquired at 2048 Hz and exported at a 256 Hz
sampling rate. The Lab was equipped with 2 portable PCs, one for
delivering the stimuli and the other for data acquisition. Respiration
(RESP), Skin Conductance (SC), Blood Volume Pulse (BVP),
Electrocardiogram (EKG) and Electroencephalogram (EEG) were
continuously recorded through sensors opportunely placed on the
student’s body. In addition, student facial expressions and student
interactions were also recorded by webcam for future analysis.
III. EXPERIMENTAL METHODS AND DESIGN
The design methodology was developed and improved in the
course of 6 years along 3 separate phases. In the first phase, a
prototype experimental protocol was defined, including the human-
computer interaction framework, the physiological recordings
generally recognized at the time within this framework, as well as
basic methods and techniques to analyze and process the
psychophysiological data. In the second phase, the prototype
protocol was tested on a group of 20 subjects in order to evaluate
and eventually re-calibrate the efficacy of our experimental stimuli,
as well as to verify the usefulness of the recorded variables. This
phase yielded critical insights for possible improvements, such as
the importance of the stimuli sequential order, or the advantages in
considering additional biological series. As a result, a final refined
protocol was defined in the third phase as described below.
A series of digital affective stimuli are at the core of the human-
computer interaction protocol. Stimuli are created ad hoc to trigger
specific emotions in 43 students (age ranged from 20 to 25 years,
Mean 22, St.Dev. 2.2) from MIT. We looked at the previous
scientific literature to shape our stimuli  . Furthermore, the
studies in   constitute a key stage in helping us to develop
stimuli with particular components to trigger specific psychological
reactions in the subjects.
The protocol is composed of 4 epochs: Baseline (the subject is
asked to stare at a white screen for 3 minutes), Relax (the subject is
exposed to a sequence of panoramas, aimed to induce a relaxation
state, for 10 minutes), Stress (the subject is asked to perform a
Psychophysiological signals associated with affective states
Maurizio Mauri, Valentina Magagnin, Pietro Cipresso, Luca Mainardi, Emery N Brown, Fellow,
IEEE, Sergio Cerutti, Fellow, IEEE, Marco Villamira, and Riccardo Barbieri, Senior Member, IEEE
Stroop task   for 4 minutes followed by a mathematical
task , lasting another 4 minutes), and Engagement (the subject
is asked to read a detective tale , lasting 10-15 minutes,
according to his/her reading speed). Every subject was briefed in
the Lab in order to become more familiar with the Lab environment
and equipment. When the subject reached a comfortable status,
he/she was asked to start the experiment. Since in the stress epoch
subjects have to speak, they were instructed to read loudly
statements written on some relaxation and engagement slides, in
order to compare stress to other epochs.
As the prototype phase evidenced important effects on both
psychological and physiological measures due to the sequential
order of the emotion-induced conditions, the sample was split into
two groups in the final protocol. The first group (defined as RES
group) was exposed, in temporal order, to Baseline, Relax1,
ENGAGEMENT, STRESS, Relax2; the second group (defined as
RSE group) to Baseline, Relax1, STRESS, ENGAGEMENT,
Relax2. Such setting allows for evaluation of both effects of
Engagement on Stress and viceversa, as well as the effects of
Engagement and Stress on relaxation. Also advocated by findings
in the prototype phase, the entire session was repeated for each
student after one month. The comparison of results from the 1st to
the 2nd session allows for evaluation of novelty effects on the
IV. PSYCHOLOGICAL SELF-REPORTS
questionnaires were evaluated for consideration: EMAS (Endler
Multidimensional Anxiety Scales), STAI (State Trait Anxiety
Iventory), and PANAS (Positive Affect Negative Affect Scale).
The STAI scale was selected as the most responsive according to
the correlation among physio/psycho data. In the final protocol,
each subject was asked to fill in the STAI questionnaire at the end
of each stimulus.
the prototype phase, three commonly used
V. SIGNAL PROCESSING
Skin Conductance (SC). Skin Conductance and Skin
Resistance are units of electrodermal activity which are expressed
in either conductance (microsiemens) or resistance (microohms).
All signals were always monitored by the same device. SC reflects
a fairly slow physiological process and can be sampled at 32 Hz
without distortion. The signal is expressed in microohms. We
considered mean and standard deviation of the sampled signal.
Heart Rate Variability. The ECG signal was analyzed with
custom software developed using Matlab (The Mathworks, Inc.;
Natick, MA) in order to detect the R peaks and calculate the RR
variability series as the time interval between two consecutive R
peaks. Spectral analysis was performed by means of autoregressive
spectral methods. The Levinson–Durbin recursion was used to
identify the coefficients of the autoregressive model and the order
was chosen (between 4 and 12) according to the Akaike figure of
merit. The autoregressive spectral decomposition procedure was
applied to calculate the power of the oscillations embedded in the
series. The rhythms were classified as very low frequency (VLF,
<0.04 Hz), low-frequency (LF, ranging from 0.04 to 0.15 Hz) and
high frequency (HF, from 0.15 to 0.5 Hz) oscillations. Power was
expressed in absolute (LFRR and HFRR) and in normalized units
[LFnu and HFnu as 100*LFRR/(σ2
VLFRR), where σ2
power expressed in absolute units] .
Respiration. The respiration signal has been recorded by means
RR-VLFRR) and 100*HFRR/(σ2
RR- was the RR variance and VLFRR was the VLF
of a stretch belt sensor positioned around the chest (thoracic
respiration). The signal was filtered (software Biograph Infiniti
from Thought Technology) to produce a smooth sinusoidal signal.
Respiration Period represents the peak-to-peak time (max-to-max
distance of the sinusoid).
EEG. The EEG sensors (2 channels) were placed on the frontal
lobes of subjects. A low cutoff frequency (LCF) of 13Hz and high
cutoff frequency (HCF) of 21 Hz were used to process EEG Beta
spectral analysis. Low total cutoff frequency (Hz): 1. High total
cutoff frequency (Hz): 512.
We analyzed students affective reactions as dependent variables
to our stimuli by means of both psychological self-reports scores
from the STAI and physiological activation from GSR, RESP,
EKG and EEG signal processing and statistical analysis.
In Figure 1 we show the averaged results from the STAI scores
and the SC index among all subjects for the baseline epoch in the
1st and 2nd session. Here, both STAI scores and SC values from
baseline are lower in the second session as compared to the first.
This finding highlights how subjects in the first session reported
higher level of stress during the baseline as they didn’t know
anything about the protocol. In the second session, data are not
affected by the novelty effect of the experiment. Because of this
effect, from now on we report results from the second session only.
Figure 1. 1st and 2nd sessions’ means of Skin Conductance
(right) and STAI scores (left). Bars show standard deviation.
Figure 2 shows averaged results from the second session of the
STAI score (subscales in blue and red, Total scores in yellow, and
percentile Total score in light blue) together with SC, RP and EEG
indexes. The first light blue bar is baseline; the dark yellow bar,
relaxation1; the green bar, engagement; red one is stress and light
yellow is relaxation2. Results are averaged for all subjects (22 for
RES and 21 for RSE) within epochs (3 min. for baseline; 10 min.
for relax1, 10-15 min. for engagement; 8 min. for stress; 10 min.
for relax2). Bars show St. Dev. values. The higher STAI scores
belong to stress, while the lowest are from relaxation1. Of note,
STAI scores in relaxation2 did not decrease to relaxation1 levels.
For SC, stress epochs are always the highest, while SC values for
relaxation are always the lowest. SC values for engagement are
always between stress and relaxation. The second relaxation
epochs are also affected by previous epochs. For RP, the stress
epochs show highest values, although for this index lowest rates are
during engagement. For EEG Beta Waves the highest values are for
engagement, with strong suppression during stress and relaxation.
Figure 3, shows the HRV indexes. From top, RR values describe
a strong reduction during stress, with no significant differences
between relaxation and engagement. For total HRV, stress epochs
indicate the highest rates, with less difference between relaxation
and engagement. From baseline to stress, HF absolute values
decrease significantly, whereas differences between engagement
and relaxation are not significant. The LF/HF graphs are the most
interesting, as the highest values are for engagement. The stress
epoch values are between engagement and (lowest) relaxation.
Figure 2. From top to bottom, STAI means, SC means, RP means and Beta
Power Trends. Each bar is an epoch: light blue = baseline; dark yellow =
relax 1; red = stress; green = engagement; light yellow = relax 2.
Figure 3. From top to bottom, RR means, HRV variance, HF absolute
power, LF/HF sympatho-vagal balance. Each bar is an epoch: light blue =
baseline; dark yellow = relax 1; red = stress; green = engagement; light
yellow = relax 2.
β % Power
STAI Total 5,22E-06 0,001186 0,01002
β % Power
Table I: statistical analysis from RES (top) and RSE (bottom), Session 2,
showing the degree of confidence for each physiological index in
differentiating the 3 main affective states examined: relax-stress, relax-
engagement, stress-engagement. Green when p < 0.005; Yellow when 0.005
< p < 0.05; Red when p > 0.05.
Figure 4. Regression analysis on STAI/SC means (top) and STAI/RR means
(bottom) for all epochs in (left) session 1 and (right) session 2. STAI/SC S1:
Correlation=0,722; Sign at 0,05 (bilateral); R Square=0,521. STAI/SC S2:
Correlation=0,959; Sign at 0,01 (bilateral); R Square=0,919. STAI/RR S1:
Correlation=0,502; Not Sign; R
Correlation=0,920; Sign at 0,01 (bilateral); R Square=0,847.
Square=0,252. STAI/RR S2:
VII. STATISTICAL AND CORRELATION ANALYSIS
Mean and Standard Deviation for STAI Total scores and all
physiological indexes considered were computed for each subject
for each epoch (Baseline, Relaxation1, Stress, Engagement and
Relaxation2). Epoch averages for group subjects (22 for RES and
21 for RSE) was also considered. Statistical analysis was
performed to compare the three emotional states (Relax, Stress and
Engagement) using both a t-student test with Bonferroni multiple
comparison correction. In Table I we show the significance
outcomes from statistical analysis of the second RES (Relax,
Engagement, Stress) and RSE (Relax, Stress, Engagement) session.
We further performed a correlation analysis between STAI
scores and biological signals, in order to explore the level of
correlation between psychological and physiological measures. The
most interesting results focus the attention on STAI scores, skin Download full-text
conductance, and mean RR interval, shown in Figure 4. Clearly,
the two physiological indexes are highly correlated with the STAI
scores, particularly in the second session where the novelty effect
is absent. Significant findings emerged also correlating respiration
period and STAI score, especially for the stress epochs. Even EEG
Beta waves showed interesting correlation trends with STAI scores,
although not always significant. At last, surprising results evidence
a relevant correlation between LF/HF and engagement epochs.
We have reported a preliminary quantitative analysis related to
specific psychophysiological patterns correlating with three target
affective states. Important conclusions and observations can be
drawn from the study.
From a psychological standpoint, the statistical data from the
STAI scores show that the 3 stimuli were effective in eliciting the 3
targeted affective states of relaxation, engagement and stress. First,
a notable sequence effect was observed: engagement and relaxation
right after stress are showing higher scores than engagement and
relaxation before stress. Because there is a sequence effect, RES
gradually improves the arousal reactions from the first to the last
epoch, while RSE shows how engagement after stress is affected
by the lingering stress arousal. This has important implications in
setting up sequential stimuli, and/or using a randomized
experimental design. Another important consideration in our
analysis can be done about the baseline: on one side we observed
how baseline and relaxation are correlating very well, on the other
side we proved that a better baseline epoch can be acquired
repeating all the tests one month later the first time, as long as
subjects seem to be prone to the novelty effect of the first session.
Table I shows significant differences between epochs for many
psychophysiological measures, reflecting the STAI behavior
assessed through self-rated tests. In this sense the results give
reasonable perspectives regarding an effective use in order to
characterize the gathered information. An important conclusion is
that relax-engagement is harder to differentiate than relax-stress
and stress-engagement: reading a detective tale as a stimulus aimed
to induce engagement may not elicit a psychophysiological
reaction that differs from the one evoked by relaxation. Further
research should investigate other alternative experimental
situations of engagement, studying which factors can elicit stronger
patterns of engagement. The best classification results come from
the SC and Respiration signals, as they show significant different
patterns for all epochs. Probably these two indexes are the most
strongly associated with the physiological reactions to the affective
states of interest. The measures derived from RR are promising,
however the poor performance in discerning between engagement
and relaxation reflects on one side the known high inter-subject
variability, on the other how the analysis might be affected by
physiological and behavioral factors which may bias the sympatho-
vagal estimate, and certainly deserve further research. However the
correlation between HRV measures and engagement is quite
interesting. From EEG, the β % Power index might reflect a good
correlation with engagement due the reading process that subjects
perform during the epoch of engagement. Further research might
also address such factor.
From a methodological standpoint, it is possible to define at
least two realms. On one side there is the realm of “raw data”, that
of course requires good sensors, proper sensors location and
preparation of body contact, etc.. On the other side, the choice of
the optimal indexes  represents a very important issue about
how to infer additional information from raw data. As described by
the table with all p values, as well as the correlation results, some
measures like SC and Respiration Period are quite efficient in
distinguishing the 3 affective states. However, it might be
advantageous to try further alternative parameters to verify if they
might improve the performance in discerning between states.
In conclusion, our work so far poses a solid basis for further
investigation on identifying more refined physiological measures
more closely associated with targeted psychological states.
Affective computing is a promising field that could lead, in the
long run, to the identification of specific patterns of affective states
able to provide critical information in a wide set of applications for
We thank the Brown Lab at MIT, 77 Mass Ave Cambridge MA,
for funding the experimental recordings, and the Clinical Research
Center at MIT for all the support and help in carrying out all the
experiments. We also thank Luca Citi for helping with signal
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