Skin conductance

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
A sample GSR signal of 60 seconds duration.

Skin conductance, also known as galvanic skin response (GSR), electrodermal response (EDR), psychogalvanic reflex (PGR), skin conductance response (SCR), or skin conductance level (SCL), is a method of measuring the electrical conductance of the skin, which varies depending on the state of sweat glands in the skin. Sweating is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system,[1] so skin conductance is used as an indication of psychological or physiological arousal. If the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is highly aroused, then sweat gland activity also increases, which in turn increases skin conductance. In this way, skin conductance can be used as a measure of emotional and sympathetic responses.[2] There has been a long history of electrodermal activity research, most of it dealing with spontaneous fluctuations or reactions to stimuli.


PGR was discovered in 1889 by Ivane Tarkhnishvili, who observed variations in skin electrical potentials in the absence of any external stimuli.[3][4]

The scientific study of GSR began in the early 1900s. One of the first references to the use of GSR instruments in psychoanalysis is the book by C. G. Jung entitled Studies in Word Analysis, published in 1906.[5]The controversial Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich also studied GSR in his experiments at the Psychological Institute at the University of Oslo in 1935 and 1936 to confirm the existence of a bio-electrical charge behind his concept of vegetative, pleasurable 'streamings.'[6] GSR was used for a variety of types of research in the 1960s through the late 1970s, with a decline as more sophisticated techniques (such as EEG and MRI) replaced it in many areas of psychological research. As of 2010, some skin conductance monitoring devices, such as galvanometers, are still in use because they are inexpensive.


Human extremities, including fingers, palms, and soles of feet display different bio-electrical phenomena. They can be detected with a skin conductance meter, a device that measures the electrical conductance between two points and is essentially a type of ohmmeter. The two paths for current are along the surface of the skin and through the body. Active measuring involves sending a small amount of current through the body.

Physiological basis[edit]

The combined changes between galvanic skin resistance and galvanic skin potential make up the galvanic skin response. Galvanic skin resistance (GSR) refers to the recorded electrical resistance between two electrodes when a very weak current is steadily passed between them. The electrodes are normally placed about an inch apart, and the resistance recorded varies according to the emotional state of the subject. Galvanic skin potential (GSP) refers to the voltage measured between two electrodes without any externally applied current. It is measured by connecting the electrodes to a voltage amplifier. Similarly, this voltage varies with the emotional state of the subject.[7]

Due to the response of the skin and muscle tissue to external and internal stimuli, the conductance can vary by several microsiemens. When correctly calibrated, the device can measure these subtle differences. There is a relationship between sympathetic activity and emotional arousal, although one cannot identify which specific emotion is being elicited. These autonomic sympathetic changes alter sweat and blood flow, which in turn affects GSR and GSP.[7]


A painful stimulus such as a pinprick elicits a sympathetic response by the sweat glands, increasing secretion. Although this increase is generally very small, sweat contains water and electrolytes which increase electrical conductivity, thus lowering the electrical resistance of the skin. These changes in turn affect the GSR. Another common example is the vasodilation (dilation) of blood vessels in the face, referred to as blushing, as well as increased sweating that occurs when one is embarrassed.[7]

The SCR (skin conductance response) is highly sensitive to emotions in some people. Fear, anger, startled response, orienting response and sexual feelings are among the reactions which may produce similar skin conductance responses. These responses are utilized as part of the polygraph or lie detector.

The SCR in regular subjects differs when given fair and unfair offers, respectively. However, psychopaths have been shown to have no difference in skin conductance between fair and competitively unfair offers.[8] This may indicate that the use of lie detectors relying on skin conductivity gives psychopaths an advantage in criminal investigations that non-psychopaths do not have.


SCR is used widely in psychological research due to its low cost and high utility.[9] Oftentimes, the galvanic skin responses are combined with the recording of heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure because they are all autonomic dependent variables. Skin conductance measurement is one component of polygraph devices and is used in scientific research of emotional or physiological arousal. Polygraphs are often used as lie detectors.[7]

Many biofeedback therapy devices utilize skin conductance to measure and display an individual's stress response with the goal of helping the user to control anxiety.[10]

The E-meter used by the Church of Scientology is a skin conductance measurement device.[11]

Skin conductance measurement is also becoming more popular in hypnotherapy and psychotherapy practices where it can be used as a method of detecting depth of hypnotic trance prior to the commencement of suggestion therapy. When traumatic material is experienced by the client (for example, during hypnoanalysis), immediate changes in sweat rate can indicate that the client is experiencing emotional arousal. It is also used in behavior therapy to measure physiological reactions such as fear.[citation needed]

Possible problems[edit]

External factors such as temperature and humidity affect GSR measurements, which can lead to inconsistent results. Internal factors such as medications can also change GSR measurements. Responses have demonstrated inconsistency even with the same stimulus level. Lastly, galvanic skin responses are delayed 1-3 seconds. Combined, these factors show the complexity of the relationship between the GSR and sympathetic activity.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Martini, Frederic; Bartholomew, Edwin (2001). Essentials of Anatomy & Physiology. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. p. 263. ISBN 0-13-061567-6. 
  2. ^ Carlson, Neil (2013). Physiology of Behavior. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. ISBN 978-0-205-23939-9. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Handbook of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology (eds. Gianfranco Denes, Luigi Pizzamiglio). Psychology Press, 1999. ISBN 9780863775420. Page 33.
  5. ^ The Biofeedback Monitor
  6. ^ Reich, W. 'Experimentelle Ergebnisse ueber die electrische Funktion von Sexualitat und Angst' (Sexpolverlag, Copenhagen, 1937). Translated as 'Experimental investigation of the electrical function of sexuality and anxiety' in J. of Orgonomy, Vol. 3, No. 1-2, 1969.
  7. ^ a b c d e Pflanzer, Richard. "Galvanic Skin Response and the Polygraph". BIOPAC Systems, Inc. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  8. ^ Oshumi, T., Ohira, H. 'The positive side of psychopathy: Emotional detachment in psychopathy and rational decision-making in the ultimatum game'. Personality and Individual Differences 49, 2010, pp. 451-456
  9. ^
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Brad Graham, Kathy McGowan (2009). Mind Performance Projects for the Evil Genius: 19 Brain-Bending Bio Hacks (illustrated ed.). McGraw Hill Professional. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-07-162392-6. 


  • Conesa, J. (1995). Electrodermal palmar asymmetry and nostril dominance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 80, 211-216.
  • Carlson, Neil (2013). Physiology of Behavior. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. ISBN 978-0-205-23939-9.
  • Figner, B., & Murphy, R. O. (2010). Using skin conductance in judgment and decision making research. A Handbook of Process Tracing Methods for Decision Research: A Critical Review and User's Guide, 163-84.
  • Pflanzer, Richard. "Galvanic Skin Response and the Polygraph". BIOPAC Systems, Inc. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
  • Nagai, Y.; Goldstein, L. H.; Fenwick, P. B. C.; Trimble, M. R. (2004). "Clinical efficacy of galvanic skin response biofeedback training in reducing seizures in adult epilepsy: A preliminary randomized controlled study". Epilepsy & Behavior 5 (2): 216–223. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2003.12.003. PMID 15123023.  edit
  • Loggia, M. L.; Juneau, M. N.; Bushnell, M. C. (2011). "Autonomic responses to heat pain: Heart rate, skin conductance, and their relation to verbal ratings and stimulus intensity". PAIN 152 (3): 592–598. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2010.11.032. PMID 21215519.  edit

External links[edit]