ARMARIO, A, J. Labad and R. Nadal. Focusing attention on biological markers of acute stressor intensity: empirical evidence and limitations. NEUROSCIENCE AND BIOBEHAVIORAL REVIEWS. The availability of biological markers that objectively quantify stress is a highly relevant issue. However, experimental evidence suggests that most physiological changes elicited by emotional stressors do not reflect their intensity and are not useful for this purpose. Thus, we review experimental evidence in animals and humans about the putative validity of neuroendocrine and sympathetic/parasympathetic variables to measure stress. Plasma levels of some hormones (e.g. ACTH, glucocorticoids, prolactin and catecholamines) have been found to reflect, at least under certain conditions, the intensity of emotional stressors in animals and probably in humans. However, the temporal resolution of hormone changes is insufficient to reflect the very dynamic psychological processes taking place while experiencing stressors. Cardiovascular parameters (e.g. heart rate and blood pressure) have much better temporal resolution but their validity as markers of stressor intensity either in animals or humans is problematic. Skin conductance and pupil dilation appear to be promising. Additional and more systematic studies are needed to demonstrate the actual validity of stress-induced physiological changes to quantify stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-103
Number of pages9
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • ACTH
  • Adrenaline
  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular response
  • Corticosterone
  • Cortisol
  • Heart rate
  • Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis
  • Noradrenaline
  • Prolactin
  • Pupil dilation
  • Skin conductance
  • Stress intensity


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