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Stimulus presentation studies are an important aspect of modern research that record and organize a participant’s reactions and physiological data to various inputs. These studies are commonly used in neuromarketing or psychophysiological experiments. First off, what is stimulus exactly? Put simply, a stimulus is a sensory input delivered to a participant with the purpose of eliciting a particular response. These stimuli can consist of images, words, lights, sounds, virtual reality, scent, or even mild electrical impulses.

The idea is to present varying types of stimulus to a participant at expected or unexpected intervals and record his/her response. For example, a collection of images might be presented (one at a time) ranging from pleasant (say an impressive vista) to neutral (say a street scene) to unpleasant (possibly a striking snake or other “fight or flight” image). Programmable stimulus systems (such as E-Prime or SuperLab) to present the stimuli, and can be used with a Chronos or M-Pod response keypad that the participant presses, each key representing a different response (e.g., pleasant image = press Key 1, unpleasant = press Key 2, etc.). A physiological signal commonly gathered from the participant is electrodermal activity (EDA), which measures the perspiration generated in a participant’s palms or fingertips. This “eccrine activity” has a strong correlation with emotional responses. For studies involving visual stimuli, a camera may be used to record the participant’s facial expressions. The expressions are simultaneously recorded and categorized using software such as FaceReader.

Stimulus experiments are generally set up using the hardware and software of the stimulus system and the resulting physiological data and stimulus markers recorded using a data acquisition system, such as BIOPAC’s MP160 with STP100C, MP36, or Smart Center Systems. These systems include AcqKnowledge or Biopac Student Lab life science software and the MP data acquisition units that interface with the stimulus hardware.

In practice, setting up stimulus studies is easier than it sounds on paper. The parameters and stimulus types are set up via drag-and-drop-interfaces in the E-Prime or SuperLab software, and the hardware interface set up using an I/O or USB connection between the stim hardware and the computer. The stimulus and BIOPAC data acquisition software can easily reside on the same computer, as can all stimulus and BIOPAC data acquisition hardware.

Stimulus studies can range from a simple setup, such as a participant responding to a sound for reaction time studies, to more randomized studies utilizing different types of stimulus delivered at varying pre-programmed intervals.

When the study is completed, data can be analyzed in AcqKnowledge software, and the various stimulus/responses organized automatically using AcqKnowledge’s automated Stim-Response Analysis routine.

For more information about conducting Stimulus studies using E-Prime, SuperLab, and AcqKnowledge software, we invite you to view the following free webinars and video tutorials:

Stimulus Presentation and Event Mark Up with E-Prime

Stimulus Presentation and Event Mark Up with SuperLab

AcqKnowledge Stim Synchronization and Analysis

Focus Areas – Automatically Create Using Define Between Events

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.

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