How to choose and what for?



This table is based on the following paper but contains additional information and references:
Blechert, J., Peyk, P., Liedlgruber, M., & Wilhelm, F. H. (2016). ANSLAB: Integrated multichannel peripheral biosignal processing in psychophysiological science. Behavior research methods, 48 (4), 1528-1545.


Electrodermal autonomic system
Skin conductance level (in μS) Measures of cholinergic (muscarinic) sympathetic activity; popular indices of mental stress, cognitive load, and autonomic arousal (Boucsein, 2011);
Skin conductance response (SCR) amplitude (in μS)  
Nonspecific skin conductance fluctuations: rate (NS-SCR, in 1/min), amplitude (in μS), rise and half recovery times (in s) (Fowles et al., 1981)
Dynamic causal modeling of electrodermal activity Modeling of sympathetic nerve activity bursts underlying spontaneous electrodermal activity (Bach, Daunizeau, Kuelzow, Friston, & Dolan, 2011)
Cardiovascular autonomic system
Electrocardiography (ECG)
Heart rate (HR, in beats/min, bpm) Frequently used measures of autonomic arousal, but dually innervated by sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (Jennings et al., 1981)
Interbeat interval (IBI = 60,000/HR, in ms)
Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) HR variability measures of cardiac parasympathetic (or vagal) activity; reflect chronotropic functional dimension; different algorithms for estimation are available: fast Fourier transform (0.15–0.50 Hz high-frequency spectral power, in ms2 ), complex demodulated amplitude (in ms), variance after cubic polynomial detrending (Porges method, in ms2 ), root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD, in ms) (Berntson et al., 1997)
Low-frequency HR variability (in ms2 ) 0.07–0.15 Hz spectral power (in ms2 ), measure related to blood pressure regulation
Very-low-frequency HR variability (in ms2 ) .025–.07 Hz spectral power (in ms2 ), measure related to temperature and hormonal salt and fluid regulation
T-wave amplitude (in mV) Sympathetic measure derived from ECG waveform (Rau, 1991)
Pulse plethysmography
Pulse wave amplitude (in units) Sympathetically controlled measure of peripheral vascular tone (vasoconstriction vs. -dilation) (Zou, Grote, Eder, Peker, & Hedner, 2004)
Pulse wave transit time (PTT, in ms) Surrogate index of blood pressure changes, sympathetically controlled (Giassi, Okida, Oliveira, & Moraes, 2013)
Continuous blood pressure measurement
Systolic blood pressure (in mmHg) Sympathetically controlled measure of peak arterial vascular pressure (Shapiro et al., 1996)
Diastolic blood pressure (in mmHg) Primarily sympathetically controlled index of minimum arterial vascular pressure
Low-frequency blood pressure variability (in mm Hg2 ) .05-.20 Hz spectral power of systolic blood pressure, measure of Mayer-wave activity related to blood pressure regulation (Cohen & Taylor, 2002)
Impedance cardiography
Preejection period (PEP, in ms) Time from beginning of electrical stimulation of the ventricles to the opening of the aortic valve; best validated noninvasive index of sympathetic cardiac efferent activity. Reflect inotropic functional dimension. (Sherwood et al., 1990)
Stroke volume (in mL) Measure of blood volume pumped by the left ventricle each heart beat; related to stress and fatigue (Nelesen, Dar, Thomas, & Dimsdale, 2008)
Cardiac output (in liters/min, L/min) Blood flow and resistance parameters that allow for threat versus challenge stress appraisal discrimination (Tomaka, Blascovich, Kibler, & Ernst, 1997)
Systemic vascular resistance (in dyn·s/cm5 )
Heather Index (in ohms/s2 ) Measure of contractile force; related to stress and heart beat interoception (Schandry, Bestler, & Montoya, 1993)
Left-ventricular ejection time (in ms) Time from opening to closing of the aortic valve; measure of left-ventricular mechanical performance (Covassin et al., 2011)
Peak ejection velocity index (in ohms/s) Peak velocity/momentum of blood flow in the aorta; related to heart beat interoception (Schandry et al., 1993)
Digit skin temperature (in °C) Measure of sympathetically innervated peripheral vasoconstriction (Rimm-Kaufman & Kagan, 1996)
Cheek skin temperature (in °C) Measure of facial blushing (Shearn, Bergman, Hill, Abel, & Hinds, 1990)
Distal-proximal skin temperature gradient (in °C) Measure of circadian phase and thermoregulation (Kolodyazhniy et al., 2012)
Respiratory system    
Respiratory plethysmography (bands)   (Lorig, 2007)
Respiratory rate (in cycles/min, cpm) Measure of respiratory velocity, related to mental stress and arousal (Grossman, 1983)
Tidal volume (in mL) Index of respiratory depth, related to different emotional states and arousal (Boiten, 1998)
Minute ventilation (in L/min) Indirect measure of hyper-/hypoventilation, related to anxiety (Kreibig, Wilhelm, Roth, & Gross, 2007)
Inspiratory duty cycle time (ratio) Fractional inspiratory ratio in relation to total breath time; measure of central respiratory on/off switching mechanisms and index of speaking activity (Wientjes, Grossman, & Gaillard, 1998; Wilhelm, Handke, & Roth, 2003)
Inspiratory flow rate (in mL/s) Measure of central respiratory drive (Wientjes et al., 1998)
Fractional rib cage contribution to tidal volume (ratio) Measure of relative thoracic (vs. abdominal) dominance in breathing activity; higher during acute hyperventilation (Wilhelm, Roth, & Sackner, 2003)
Sigh rate (in 1/min) Breaths with tidal volume > 200 % of average; measure of respiratory depth dysregulation related to anxiety and pain (Wilhelm, Gevirtz, & Roth, 2001)
Tidal volume variability (in mL) RMSSD of tidal volumes; measure of respiratory depth dysregulation related to anxiety and pain
Apnea rate (in 1/min) Pauses after inspiration or expiration exceeding 5 s; measure of respiratory timing dysregulation and inhibited breathing related to anxiety and pain
Cycle time variability (in s) RMSSD of breath durations; measure of respiratory timing dysregulation and inhibited breathing related to anxiety and pain
Respiratory blood gases
End-tidal partial carbon dioxide pressure (pCO2, in mmHg) Direct measure of hyper-/hypoventilation from capnography, related to stress and anxiety; capnogram also provides respiratory rate (Kreibig et al., 2007)
pO2 (in %) Arterial oxygen saturation from pulse oximetry, related to inhibited or apneic breathing (Pretto, Roebuck, Beckert, & Hamilton, 2014)
Muscular system
Facial electromyography (EMG)
M. corrugator supercilii activity (in μV) Linearly related to negative affect (frown) (Larsen, Norris, & Cacioppo, 2003)
M. zygomaticus major activity (in μV) Nonlinearly related to positive affect (smile)
Activity of various other facial muscles Related to distinct emotion expressions (Fridlund & Cacioppo, 1986)
Reflexive startle EMG
M. orbicularis oculi response magnitude (in μV) Eye-blink in responses to startle probes, related to background stimulus valence and threat appraisals (Blumenthal et al., 2005)
M. orbicularis oculi onset and peak latencies (in ms)
Bodily EMG    
m. trapezius activity (in μV) Index of mental effort induced muscular tension (Roman-Liu, Grabarek, Bartuzi, & Choromanski, 2013)
Activity of various other muscles
Body movement and angle (in g) Gross motor activity (high-frequency component) and posture/angle (low-frequency component) (Fahrenberg, Foerster, Smeja, & Muller, 1997)
Additional measures    
Approximative entropy HR derived measures of cardiovascular regulation dynamics from chaos and nonlinear systems theories (Voss, Schulz, Schroeder, Baumert, & Caminal, 2009)
Sample entropy
Detrended fluctuation analysis scaling exponent
Maximum embedding dimension
Largest Lyapunov exponent
Hurst exponent
Coherence, transfer function and phase angle estimates of two oscillating signals For example, to estimate baroreflex sensitivity from blood pressure and HR signals, see text for detail (Saul et al., 1991)
Response coherence and optimal lag for two signals For example, to assess the extent to which behavioral and physiological responses cohere during emotion (Mauss et al., 2005)