Continuous measurement of stress levels in naturalistic settings using heart rate variability: An experience-sampling study driving a machine learning approach

Pietro Cipresso, Silvia Serino, Francesca Borghesi, Gennaro Tartarisco, Giuseppe Riva, Giovanni Pioggia, Andrea Gaggioli


Developing automatic methods to measure psychological stress in everyday life has become an important research challenge. Here, we describe the design and implementation of a personalized mobile system for the detection of psychological stress episodes based on Heart-Rate Variability (HRV) indices. The system’s architecture consists of three main modules: a mobile acquisition module; an analysis-decision module; and a visualization-reporting module. Once the stress level is calculated by the mobile system, the visualization-reporting module of the mobile application displays the current stress level of the user. We carried out an experience-sampling study, involving 15 participants, monitored longitudinally, for a total of 561 ECG analyzed, to select the HRV features which best correlate with self-reported stress levels. Drawing on these results, a personalized classification system is able to automatically detect stress events from those HRV features, after a training phase in which the system learns from the subjective responses given by the user. Finally, the performance of the classification task was evaluated on the empirical dataset using the leave one out cross-validation process. Preliminary findings suggest that incorporating self-reported psychological data in the system’s knowledge base allows for a more accurate and personalized definition of the stress response measured by HRV indices.

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