"Reading between the Heat": Co-Teaching Body Thermal Signatures for Non-intrusive Stress Detection

Yi Xiao, Harshit Sharma, Zhongyang Zhang, Dessa Bergen-Cico, Tauhidur Rahman, Asif Salekin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stress impacts our physical and mental health as well as our social life. A passive and contactless indoor stress monitoring system can unlock numerous important applications such as workplace productivity assessment, smart homes, and personalized mental health monitoring. While the thermal signatures from a user's body captured by a thermal camera can provide important information about the "fight-flight"response of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, relying solely on thermal imaging for training a stress prediction model often lead to overfitting and consequently a suboptimal performance. This paper addresses this challenge by introducing ThermaStrain, a novel co-teaching framework that achieves high-stress prediction performance by transferring knowledge from the wearable modality to the contactless thermal modality. During training, ThermaStrain incorporates a wearable electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor to generate stress-indicative representations from thermal videos, emulating stress-indicative representations from a wearable EDA sensor. During testing, only thermal sensing is used, and stress-indicative patterns from thermal data and emulated EDA representations are extracted to improve stress assessment. The study collected a comprehensive dataset with thermal video and EDA data under various stress conditions and distances. ThermaStrain achieves an F1 score of 0.8293 in binary stress classification, outperforming the thermal-only baseline approach by over 9%. Extensive evaluations highlight ThermaStrain's effectiveness in recognizing stress-indicative attributes, its adaptability across distances and stress scenarios, real-time executability on edge platforms, its applicability to multi-individual sensing, ability to function on limited visibility and unfamiliar conditions, and the advantages of its co-teaching approach. These evaluations validate ThermaStrain's fidelity and its potential for enhancing stress assessment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number189
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 12 2024


  • Affective Computing
  • Co-teaching
  • Contactless sensing
  • Health Sensing
  • Machine Learning
  • Multimodality
  • Stress detection
  • Thermal sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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