Generalizable machine learning for stress monitoring from wearable devices: A systematic literature review

Vos, Gideon, Trinh, Kelly, Sarnyai, Zoltan, and Rahimi Azghadi, Mostafa (2023) Generalizable machine learning for stress monitoring from wearable devices: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 173. 105026.

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Introduction: Wearable sensors have shown promise as a non-intrusive method for collecting biomarkers that may correlate with levels of elevated stress. Stressors cause a variety of biological responses, and these physiological reactions can be measured using biomarkers including Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Electrodermal Activity (EDA) and Heart Rate (HR) that represent the stress response from the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), and the immune system. While Cortisol response magnitude remains the gold standard indicator for stress assessment [1], recent advances in wearable technologies have resulted in the availability of a number of consumer devices capable of recording HRV, EDA and HR sensor biomarkers, amongst other signals. At the same time, researchers have been applying machine learning techniques to the recorded biomarkers in order to build models that may be able to predict elevated levels of stress.

Objective: The aim of this review is to provide an overview of machine learning techniques utilized in prior research with a specific focus on model generalization when using these public datasets as training data. We also shed light on the challenges and opportunities that machine learning-enabled stress monitoring and detection face.

Methods: This study reviewed published works contributing and/or using public datasets designed for detecting stress and their associated machine learning methods. The electronic databases of Google Scholar, Crossref, DOAJ and PubMed were searched for relevant articles and a total of 33 articles were identified and included in the final analysis. The reviewed works were synthesized into three categories of publicly available stress datasets, machine learning techniques applied using those, and future research directions. For the machine learning studies reviewed, we provide an analysis of their approach to results validation and model generalization. The quality assessment of the included studies was conducted in accordance with the IJMEDI checklist [2].

Results: A number of public datasets were identified that are labeled for stress detection. These datasets were most commonly produced from sensor biomarker data recorded using the Empatica E4 device, a well-studied, medical-grade wrist-worn wearable that provides sensor biomarkers most notable to correlate with elevated levels of stress. Most of the reviewed datasets contain less than twenty-four hours of data, and the varied experimental conditions and labeling methodologies potentially limit their ability to generalize for unseen data. In addition, we discuss that previous works show shortcomings in areas such as their labeling protocols, lack of statistical power, validity of stress biomarkers, and model generalization ability.

Conclusion: Health tracking and monitoring using wearable devices is growing in popularity, while the generalization of existing machine learning models still requires further study, and research in this area will continue to provide improvements as newer and more substantial datasets become available.

Item ID: 78315
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1872-8243
Keywords: Generalization, Machine learning, Stress, Wearable sensor
Copyright Information: © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (
Date Deposited: 11 Aug 2023 07:09
FoR Codes: 32 BIOMEDICAL AND CLINICAL SCIENCES > 3206 Medical biotechnology > 320602 Medical biotechnology diagnostics (incl. biosensors) @ 50%
46 INFORMATION AND COMPUTING SCIENCES > 4611 Machine learning > 461199 Machine learning not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 20 HEALTH > 2001 Clinical health > 200101 Diagnosis of human diseases and conditions @ 100%
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