I would like to measure the change in emotional state in response to a question. For example, asking the question, "What is your favorite color?" would be fairly benign; I would not expect any change in emotional state. However, I would expect a strong emotional response if I asked "What type of person do you hate?" or "Have you ever smoked marijuana?"

Ideally, we would measure this immediately after asking the question. Does anybody have any suggestions on how this can be done, or how it has been done reliably in the past? I have access to surveys and special cameras (thermal, pupil analysis, etc) if it helps.

Edit: To clarify, I'm more interested in measuring the level of emotional arousal more than measuring what specific emotion somebody is feeling. For example, I don't care if somebody is frightened or angry, just the extent to which the emotion caused arousal.

  • $\begingroup$ Is it just to hearing the statement of the question that you are interested in? If so, what is it in particular about questions that matters, why not not reaction to a general statement (be it question or not)? If you are interested in making the measurements when people are responding to a question, then I am sure there is a huge literature on it related to the polygraph and other techniques. Where have you looked already? $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2012 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ So you're really just asking to to measure of emotional response? $\endgroup$
    – Ben Brocka
    Apr 9, 2012 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ Which emotions do you want to measure? And how do you define those emotions? As you know, some people hide their emotions (both overtly and when being measured by an instrument such as a polygraph). What do you intend to do about those folks? Would an average measurement across a variety of people suffice? Which equipment and methods you use will depend on the answers to these questions. $\endgroup$
    – John Pick
    Apr 9, 2012 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ Thinking of it, the Polygraph has a reputation for picking up on some emotions, but I wouldn't consider it accurate for emotion as a single thing; I'm not sure anything has. I think you might need to focus on specific emotions to be able to measure anything without measuring...everything $\endgroup$
    – Ben Brocka
    Jun 15, 2012 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnPick - Right now, I'm not interested in differentiating between emotions. I don't care if somebody is angry or frightened, as long as the arousal is high. I'd probably flag somebody if they showed very high arousal to a question when compared to their peers, or to their individual baseline of responses to benign questions. Hope that helps. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Jun 20, 2012 at 18:29

1 Answer 1


You could go with the most direct approach: After every question, ask your subjects how emotionally aroused the last question made them, for example by using a visual analogue scale. Now, this might not be suitable for your research (maybe you don't want your subjects to start to think about their own emotional state), but I think there's a danger in using advanced measurement technologies just for the heck of it. I would imagine a direct question would give your research quite high face validity for example.

However, if want to go with a more indirect approach I would recommend you check skin conductance measurements out. Here, you could for example (there are numerous examples) check out the research on precognition, which started with an experiment by Dean Radin. In these studies, you can see how skin conductance measurements vary with the content of presented pictures quite nicely (never mind if you agree with the precognition hypothesis or not).


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