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By Alan Macy, BIOPAC Systems, Inc.

Electrodermal activity measurement is subject to electrically-related characteristics of the skin. There are two phenomena associated with this type of skin activity. One is skin potential, which is a self-generated potential intrinsic to the skin. This potential is a consequence associated with dissimilar skin layers placed in proximity coupled with the presence and movement of interstitial fluids. An evoked skin potential response is called the sympathetic skin response. This change in skin potential can be evoked by electrical, auditory or magnetic stimulation. The other phenomenon associated with skin electrical activity can be measured when a stimulation (excitation) current is injected through, or a voltage is applied across, attached skin electrodes. The current or voltage stimulation is typically at constant (DC) level, or at low frequency, because the skin impedance is high. The application of excitation current or voltage produces a corresponding voltage or current, respectively, that changes over time subject to physiological state. In these cases, the skin’s resistance, impedance, conductance or admittance is being measured, corresponding to the type of electrical stimulation used.

EDA Measurements – subject to electrical excitation type:

Skin Resistance – Direct Constant Current (not commonly used)

Skin Conductance – Direct Constant Voltage (most commonly used)

Skin Impedance – Alternating Constant Current (not commonly used)

Skin Admittance – Alternating Constant Voltage (sometimes used)

Typically, EDA is measured as skin conductance and a small direct constant voltage (0.5 vdc) is used as excitation source across the skin electrodes. The skin admittance method (alternating constant voltage excitation) may provide some advantages in measurement in that this method does not polarize the skin electrodes during EDA recording. Skin conductance is usually measured in units of “Siemens” although sometimes “mho” is used. The unit “mho” comes from the reverse spelling of “ohm”, the unit of resistance. One mho equals one Siemen.  The conductivity of the skin is small, so values are given in microsiemens (uS) or micromhos (umho).

Changes in the electrically-related characteristics of the skin is correlated to eccrine sweat gland activity. Eccrine glands are in nearly all skin locations and are found, in highest concentrations, on the palms of hands, fingertips and soles of the feet. EDA, measured as skin conductance, is a physiological signal that indicates increased sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity. This aspect of EDA is representative of changes in the electrical conductance of the skin due to eccrine (sweat) gland activity. SNS activity increases sweat gland secretions. Eccrine glands only receive activation signals from the SNS, so increased EDA is an indicator of increased arousal.

There are two aspects to skin conductance measurements, namely phasic and tonic. Tonic value is the average skin conductance level (SCL), that is relatively consistent over time, and is related to arousal. The phasic component  of skin conductance is the change of the skin conductance, over a short time period, in reaction to a stimulus. For a skin conductance response (SCR), the skin conductance rises in a short time period and then returns to tonic levels. SCRs are characterized by four different parameters: the response peak amplitude, latency of response, rise time to the response peak, and recovery time after peak.

For more information on BIOPAC’s EDA research solutions, including real-time live raw EDA data as well as real-time filtering or calculation channels including High-pass filtered/AC Coupled EDA, visit BIOPAC’s EDA Analysis page or view BIOPAC’s full line of electrodes, amplifiers, and wearable, wireless transmitters and loggers.

Additionally, a link to a recently updated EDA SCR Analysis Guide for Psychological Experiments came be found here.

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