Logo Utrecht University

BIO Learn&Teach



Prof. Dr. Eco de Geus (VU University Amsterdam)

The focus of Eco de Geus’ research is the psychophysiological study of individual differences in behaviour and health. He has developed an ambulatory monitoring system to record stress physiology in real life settings.

Monitoring Stress in Real Life Settings through Autonomic Nervous System Activity

Biopsychosocial models of stress identify the physiological stress response as the critical factor that translates stress into loss of  (cognitive) performance capacity and longer term detrimental health outcomes. A core component of the physiological stress response is the engagement of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) parallel to disengagement of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Currently much of our understanding of SNS and PNS reactivity to stress comes from short-lived stressors administered in artificial  laboratory settings. The ability to measure (prolonged) the SNS and PNS activity in real life settings, like the classroom, would greatly advance the ecological and construct validity of stress research.

This lecture reviews the current state of the art in ambulatory assessment of SNS and PNS activity through impedance cardiography (pre-ejection period, PEP), skin conductance recording (nsSCR), and combined ECG and respiration recording (respiratory sinus arrhythmia, RSA). Examples of the application of  stress recording in real life settings are given from the fields of work stress and in-vivo exposure therapy.  An important methodological challenge is the optimal correction of ambulatory recorded signals for non-psychological effects on these measures of SNS and PNS , including posture, physical activity and temperature. The concept of additional heart rate is reviewed as a promising strategy to effectively deal with this challenge.

Prof. Dr. Daan Scheepers (Utrecht / Leiden University)

Daan Scheepers applies psychophysiological methods, for example on the basis of the biopsychosocial model (Blascovich, 2008), to measure cardiovascular response profiles that are indicative of “challenge” and “threat” motivational states.

Social Psychophysiology: Rationale, Application, and Future Directions

Psychophysiological measures have become standard tools in the toolbox of the (social) psychological researcher. By applying the right measure the right way, physiological measures can provide answers to questions that research participants are not willing or able to tell via self-report measures. Moreover, physiological measures have additional advantages, as they can provide online and continuous markers of psychological states, while some of them are predictive of important health outcomes.

The current presentation will combine a primer on social psychophysiology with a sketch of the recent developments in this exciting field.

My presentation consists of three parts. I will start with describing the logic behind psychophysiology, the different ways in which examining physiological processes can be informative for the (social) psychologist, and some of the practicalities that play a role when integrating psychophysiological methods in psychological research. In the second part I illustrate this further with some recent work from our lab applying cardiovascular markers of “challenge” and “threat” to diverse social and organizational psychological phenomena (power, decision-making, negotiation). Finally, I address two exciting developments in this field: The measurement of physiological processes in real ongoing group interactions, and the measurement of physiological responses outside the lab.


Prof. Dr. Andrew Martin (University of New South Wales)

Andrew Martin is a registered psychologist. He is recognized for psychological and educational research in achievement motivation and for the quantitative methods he brings to the study of applied phenomena.

The Role of Electrodermal Activity (EDA) in Better Understanding the Relationship between Fear of Failure and Achievement

Tests are stressful, particularly for students who are fearful of failure. However, research into how fear of failure impacts test achievement has yielded mixed findings. To shed further light on this issue, the present study examined the role of electrodermal activity (EDA) in mediating the link between fear of failure and achievement in science. While completing a science test, a sample of 156 high school students wore a biometric wristband that collected EDA data. Data were also collected on students’ fear of failure via an online survey. Using structural equation modeling, we found that beyond the effects of socio-demographics: fear of failure predicted higher levels of EDA, higher levels of EDA predicted lower achievement, there was no direct relationship between fear of failure and achievement, but there was an indirect path suggesting that EDA mediated the association between fear of failure and achievement. In multi-group invariance tests, these effects generalized across gender, age, socio-economic, and language background groupings. Findings help clarify how students’ fear of failure is implicated in their achievement. Findings also suggest that targeting students’ characteristic orientation to academic threat (fear of failure) and seeking to lower their stress-related arousal are both important for assisting physiological and achievement outcomes in test situations.

Prof. Dr. Lucia Mason (University of Padova)

Lucia Mason’s recent research interests focus on online process data, in particular eye movements and physiological measures (e.g., cardiac responses), to study both cognitive and affective processes of learning from single and multiple texts.

Exploring the Role of Psychophysiological Indicators in Multiple-Text Comprehension: Evidence from a Research Program

This contribution aims to solicit discussion on the interpretation of psychophysiological data during complex academic tasks that involve cognitive and affective processes. It presents the findings of a research program on the role of psychophysiological indicators in reading and comprehension of conflicting texts on the Internet. In all studies 7th graders were involved in pre-reading, webpage reading, and post-reading tasks. Webpages had some emotional content about two debated topics and were balanced for position and reliability. In Study 1 dispositional emotion reactivity was measured using electrodermal activity. In Study 2 basal psychophysiological self-regulation in source evaluation was investigated using heart rate variability. In Study 3 emotional reactivity and regulation while reading multiple online sources were examined using heart rate and heart rate variability, respectively. In study 4 arousal while reading was measured using electrodermal activity. Eye movements as first-pass or look-back fixation times were also considered. A consistent result across all studies is that arousal is a negative predictor of multiple-text comprehension in short essay tasks, or source evaluation in reliability judgments: the higher  students’ psychophysiological arousal, the lower their cognitive performance. In contrast, psychophysiological self-regulation is a positive predictor. The higher the readers’ ability to self-regulate processes and focus on the task, the greater their performance related to multiple sources evaluation and comprehension.

Monika Donker MSc. (Utrecht University)

Monika Donker investigates emotional processes during teaching in secondary school teachers, by using heart rate measures in combination with behavioral coding of interpersonal teacher and student behavior.

Teachers’ Physiological Arousal during Teacher-Student Interaction as Predictor of Teacher Emotions

Teacher-student interaction has often been claimed as a central aspect in the emergence of both positive and negative teacher emotions. However, information is lacking about the processes during teaching leading to differences in teachers’ emotions. To better understand these behavioral and emotional processes, we explored continuous measures of teachers’ physiological reactions (heart rate) and teachers’ interpersonal behavior (i.e., Agency/dominance and Communion/friendliness) during one hour of real-life classroom teaching in a sample of 80 teachers. Next to inter-individual mean level correlations, we investigated also intra-individual associations between physiology and behavior over time. We discovered that not only mean levels of Agency and Communion were associated with teacher emotions, but also the intra-individual association between heart rate and interpersonal behaviour pointed towards possible challenges for teachers. More specifically, teachers that had an increased heart rate when showing friendly behavior (i.e., high Communion) reported higher levels of negative emotional after the lesson. Using physiological and behavioral process measures in the context of teacher emotions might help to design personalized interventions for teachers and might provide them with the fine-grained information needed to cope with the everyday challenges of teacher-student interaction.