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Stress sensors created to combat burnout

Researchers in Zurich have developed devices for measuring people’s stress levels which they hope one day can be used to help prevent burnout and depression.

This content was published on March 8, 2010 - 17:46

The team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has found ways of measuring perspiration, heart rate, breathing rate, movement and the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in saliva.

Their work is described in an article published on Monday on the institute’s website.

One device was tested on a group of 30 people who thought they were taking a simple arithmetic test, but in fact were asked to solve difficult maths problems. In addition to time pressure they also faced social pressure, in that they were given constant feedback telling them their performance was under average

In a second test they did the same tasks, but were not placed under pressure.

The device was able to recognise stress in 83 per cent of cases by measuring the conductivity of the skin. Stress makes people sweat more, increasing this conductivity.

A range of measuring methods are needed in order to determine stress accurately, according to team leader Bert Arnrich. He acknowledged the receptors currently being tested were not comfortable and so could not be used to monitor stress long term.

It is planned to carry out tests on firemen to measure their stress levels and state of health. The researchers also want to see if their methods can be used in patients suffering from manic depression.

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