Explainable stress type classification captures physiologically relevant responses in the Maastricht Acute Stress Test

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Introduction: Current stress detection methods concentrate on identification of stress and non-stress states despite the existence of various stress types. The present study performs a more specific, explainable stress classification, which could provide valuable information on the physiological stress reactions. Methods: Physiological responses were measured in the Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST), comprising alternating trials of cold pressor (inducing physiological stress and pain) and mental arithmetics (eliciting cognitive and social-evaluative stress). The responses in these subtasks were compared to each other and to the baseline through mixed model analysis. Subsequently, stress type detection was conducted with a comprehensive analysis of several machine learning components affecting classification. Finally, explainable artificial intelligence (XAI) methods were applied to analyze the influence of physiological features on model behavior. Results: Most of the investigated physiological reactions were specific to the stressors, and the subtasks could be distinguished from baseline with up to 86.5 % balanced accuracy. The choice of the physiological signals to measure (up to 25 %-point difference in balanced accuracy) and the selection of features (up to 7 %-point difference) were the two key components in classification. Reflection of the XAI analysis to mixed model results and human physiology revealed that the stress detection model concentrated on physiological features relevant for the two stressors. Discussion: The findings confirm that multimodal machine learning classification can detect different types of stress reactions from baseline while focusing on physiologically sensible changes. Since the measured signals and feature selection affected classification performance the most, data analytic choices left limited input information uncompensated.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1294286
JournalFrontiers in Neuroergonomics
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This document is the results of the research projects funded by VTT and the Academy of Finland grant numbers 313401, 334092, and 351282.


  • acute stress detection
  • interpretable artificial intelligence
  • machine learning
  • physiology
  • stress


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