Over the past several years, tools and techniques for recording and analyzing physiological data recording have seen steady and marked improvement. Modern life science data acquisition systems such as the MP160 System and powerful research-grade software suites such as AcqKnowledge bring high-end physiology tools within reach of the smallest lab. Even with continuing advances and reduced margin for error, it remains prudent to follow some fundamental guidelines for maximizing data quality and clarity.
Preparation is important. First, invest time exploring the system if it’s new or unfamiliar. An overview of the documentation, training videos, and available webinars, as well as some practice runs with the hardware and software will save time and effort when the time comes to conduct a study. This will also build proficiency at identifying the differences between good and poor data.
Next, familiarize yourself with the type of electrodes and/or transducers necessary for the physiological signals you will be acquiring, which includes proper electrode and skin site preparation. For example, gently abrading the skin prior to applying electrodes is normally recommended for most signal types, except for electrodermal activity (EDA), in which case it’s vital to NOT abrade the skin beforehand. It is also helpful to wait at least 5 minutes before starting a recording, which enables the electrode gel to be absorbed into the skin, helping reduce the impedance.
Performing an impedance check to ensure that the electrodes are making good contact with the skin is also highly recommended. This task is made easier by using an Electrode Impedance Checker (such as EL-CHECK), a simple device for quickly measuring the resistance between the skin and the electrode that provides an LED readout of the skin/electrode contact quality. If the resistance is too high (indicating poor contact) proper adjustments can be made before starting an experiment.
For certain signal types, excessive participant movement can introduce unwanted artifact into the signal, resulting in poor or skewed data. Make sure the participant remains as still as possible during studies involving these signals. Using tape to attach the electrode leads to the skin and keep them from moving excessively can also be helpful.
A thorough check of the system and all connections, cameras, and other hardware is important, so that any problems with equipment or setup can be addressed in advance, thus avoiding a show-stopping issue in the midst of an experiment. This would include performing a pilot study with trained personnel in order to head off any unforeseen issues with the data collection.
Creating a lab setup conducive to a relaxed environment for the participant and technician alike will yield better results. This means eliminating clutter, noise, and other distractions that can affect comfort and attention span. Some labs even avoid having their staff wear lab coats because this can heighten participant nervousness.
Keeping detailed notes on successful lab setups is also helpful and will streamline the preparation process for future experiments. Additionally, creating and saving graph templates for regularly-repeated experiments will save further time and effort.
For more about the fundamentals of recording great data, we invite you to view this free on-demand webinar Fundamentals of Physiology Recording.
BIOPAC offers a wide array of wired and wireless equipment that can be used in your research. To find more information on solutions for recording and analyzing signals such as ECG, heart rate, respiration and more using any platforms mentioned in this blog post, you can visit the individual application pages on the BIOPAC website.