Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)


Galvanic skin response: Revealing arousal by monitoring skin reactions 

One of the methods used at the Deloitte Neuroscience Institute is the measurement of skin conductance by means of galvanic skin response, short GSR

The GSR method is based on the correlation between our mental and physiological reactions – transpiration for example. When we experience arousal such as stress or joy, we begin to sweat as our sympathetic nervous system increases its activity. This is also the case when experiencing emotions such as anger or frustration. The intensity of our emotional arousal (but not the type of emotion) can be derived from transpiration. Conversely, during boredom or relaxation transpiration decreases. We use GSR to measure changes of transpiration with high sensitivity. For this purpose, two electrodes are attached to the hands of study participants while they are interacting with an object or a person. Then, the voltage difference across the electrodes is used to calculate the skin conductivity which allows conclusions on their emotional state (e.g. bored, relaxed, engaged) during that experience. 

These insights are used amongst others to test and improve communications, marketing messages, advertisements, and product/service experiences to achieve the desired emotional reaction. 

GSR can be applied to various use cases such as:

  • Design of targeted and emotionally appealing marketing materials
  • Increasing the attractiveness and emotional impact of talks, presentations and video content
  • Identification of sources of frustration when using physical or digital products 
  • Design of intuitive, user-centered business processes 

GSR can advance other research methods such as EEG and eye tracking by

  • Allowing unbiased, objective conclusions about arousal
  • Deriving information on unconscious, emotional reactions to content
  • Further improving user experiences based on emotional reactions and stress reduction

Did you know that about 10% of the population enjoys arousal caused by horror movies?

Horror movies, more than any other genre, uses sound to create tension. Tension in combination with relevance and unrealism is a primary success factor of the highly controversial genre. It is increased slowly and the physical and emotional arousal rises while watching horror movies. The feeling of fear can trigger our fight or flight response which results in a boost of endorphins, adrenaline and dopamine. As long as our brain knows that we are only watching a movie and are in a safe spot, this cocktail can make us feel great. Especially, once the tension is released as the feeling of release boosts our positive feelings.

Horror movies are one example of how movies can create a large range of bodily and psychological reactions. Nevertheless, arousal and intuitive liking are factors that all types of movies, especially movie trailers, are supposed to provide. With neuroscientific methods, reactions to movies can be measured and quantified, e.g. GSR detecting stress and excitement.

At the Deloitte Neuroscience Institute, we use GSR in combination with other neuroscientific methods such as EEG and eye tracking to create qualitative and scientific insights into customer perception and user interaction.