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Can mobile skin conductance assessments be helpful in signalling imminent inpatient aggression?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 June 2014

Eric Kuijpers
GGZ Eindhoven, Department of research and development, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Henk Nijman
Forensic Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute (BSI), Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands Altrecht Mental Health Institute, Division Altrecht Aventurijn, Den Dolder, The Netherlands
Inge M.B. Bongers
Evidence Based Management in Mental Health Care, University of Tilburg, Tilburg, The Netherlands Research and Development Department, GGZ Eindhoven, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Matty Lubberding
GGZ Eindhoven, Department of research and development, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Martin Ouwerkerk
Philips Research, Eindhoven, The Netherlands


Background: A well-known technique to assess (psychological) arousal is to measure the skin conductance level (SCL). Although widely used in experimental psychological research, this technique has not been used often in (locked) psychiatric admission settings on patients who are at a high risk of engaging in aggressive behaviour. One of the obvious reasons for this is that measuring skin conductance, until recently, required a substantial amount of equipment.

Methods: As technology developed, it became possible to develop small wearable devices in the form of regular watches to measure the SCL as well as other psycho-physiological parameters. To illustrate the potential this may have for the prevention of aggressive behaviour, a case description is provided of a patient in crisis who became physically aggressive while wearing a skin conductance measurement device.

Results: Interestingly, the SCL of the patient had been rising sharply before the first signs of aggressive behaviour were visible.

Conclusion: Although it concerns an anecdotal case study, this finding suggests that measuring SCL on a continuous basis in patients who are at a high risk of becoming violent, without this procedure having to interfere with their daily life, may open new avenues for preventing aggression at an earlier stage. A large-scale empirical study in a substantial number of (potentially aggressive) patients is needed, however, to investigate the predictive validity of mobile skin conductance assessments on imminent inpatient aggression in a reliable way.

Case Report
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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