Changes in heart rate and skin conductance in the 30 min preceding aggressive behavior

Peter de Looff*, Matthijs L. Noordzij, Mirjam Moerbeek, Henk Nijman, Robert Didden, Petri Embregts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
97 Downloads (Pure)


Aggressive behavior of inpatients threatens the safety and well-being of both mental health staff members and fellow patients. It was investigated whether heart rate and electrodermal activity can be used to signal imminent aggression. A naturalistic study was conducted in which 100 inpatients wore sensor wristbands during 5 days to monitor their heart rate and electrodermal activity while staff members recorded patients’ aggressive incidents on the ward. Of the 100 patients, 36 displayed at least one aggressive incident. Longitudinal multilevel models indicated that heart rate, skin conductance level, and the number of nonspecific skin conductance responses per minute rose significantly in the 20 min preceding aggressive incidents. Although psychopathy was modestly correlated with displaying aggression, it was not a significant predictor of heart rate and skin conductance preceding aggression. The current findings may provide opportunities for the development of individual prediction models to aid acute risk assessment and to predict aggressive incidents in an earlier stage. The current results on the physiological indicators of aggression are promising for reducing aggression and improving both staff as well as patient safety in psychiatric mental health institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13420
Issue number10
Early online date11 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • Ambulatory
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Galvanic skin response (GSR)
  • Heart rate
  • Monitoring
  • Aggression
  • 22/4 OA procedure


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