Recurring sequences of multimodal non-verbal and verbal communication during a human psycho-social stress test: A temporal pattern analysis

Physiol Behav. 2020 Jul 1:221:112907. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.112907. Epub 2020 Apr 8.


Background: The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) is a widely used protocol to study human psycho-social stress responses. Quantitative reports of non-verbal behaviors have been carried out by means of the Ethological Coding System for Interviews (ECSI). However, no data have described whether and how non-verbal and verbal behaviors take part in the composition of multimodal sequences of communication during the test.

Method: Five non-verbal ECSI categories and four verbal behaviors related with communication were included in the Ethogram. A focal sampling was employed to ensure a high temporal resolution of the behavioral annotation. T-Pattern Analysis was employed to detect statistically-grounded behavioral sequences.

Results: As a first step, frequency, overall duration and mean time length were reported for each component of the Ethogram. Besides, T-Pattern Analysis revealed that communication during TSST is organized according to a complex temporal patterning. We found 51 different sequences (T-patterns): 8 T-patterns included exclusively non-verbal behaviors; 17 T-patterns included verbal behaviors and 26 T-patterns encompassed mixed non-verbal and verbal behaviors. T-patterns were discussed depending on their putative functional meaning since non-verbal behaviors almost did not overlap within patterns.

Conclusions: The implementation of an Ethogram including non-verbal and verbal components highlights the multimodal human communication in TSST. T-Pattern Analysis unveils the real-time interplay among these components. In this study results are discussed according to Jakobson's six constitutive factors of communication.

Keywords: Behavioral sequences; Communication; Ethological assessment; Human psycho-social stress; T-pattern analysis; Trier social stress test.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Ethology
  • Exercise Test*
  • Humans
  • Psychological Tests
  • Stress, Psychological*