Body Language of Sweating – Smells Like Teen Pressure
Jenny Galvao

Researcher Kim Gregson of Auburn University and her associates has examined the physiological responses in association with peer victimization and externalizing behaviour and found that sweating is correlated to feelings of stress making it a reliable nonverbal cue.

The researchers hypothesized that skin conductance level reactivity was partially related to peer victimization. There was an association between peer victimization and parent and teacher reports of externalizing behaviour, in students with lower skin conductance level reactivity (SCLR). However, this relationship was non-existent in individuals who exhibited higher skin conductance level reactivity.

“Lower SCLR may indicate lack of awareness or engagement with peer stress experiences, limiting the extent to which preadolescents learn from peer problem situations or develop skills to avoid peer conflict (e.g. aggression) in the future,” the researchers point out, noting that low SCLR may also reflect a lack of inhibitory self-control.

In this experiment, fifth and sixth graders along with one of their parents participated. The students filled out a self-report measure of peer victimization, which asked questions like “how often do you get pushed or shoved by other peers at school,” and “how often have other kids said mean things about you to keep other people from liking you”. Participants rated these questions on a scale ranging from 1(almost never), to 5 (almost always).

Skin conductance was measured by placing a foam gel on the palm of the students’ non-dominant hand. The externalizing behaviour was a measure filled out by parents, a subscale of the child behaviour checklist, consisting of questions like “mean to others”, “sudden changes in mood or feelings” on a 3-point scale . Teachers filled out another measure containing questions from the teacher-report form with the same questions the parents filled out and the same scale. Teachers also filled out a measure containing questions from the checklist of peer relations, designed to measure behaviour (e.g., questions like child gets easily aggressive when provoked/teased/threatened, child threatens or bullies others, etc.).

The researchers found that the highest level of skin conductance reaction was during the peer evaluation period. Also, children from higher income households had higher SCLR-evaluations, lower self-report victimization, and higher parent/teacher externalizing and aggressive behaviour.

“Higher levels of self-reported peer victimization were independently associated with higher parent-reported externalizing behavior, above and beyond demographic variables,” say the researchers.

Peer victimization was associated with parent reports of externalized behaviour in fifth and sixth graders with lower SCLR evaluations, but not among the students with high SCLR. Lower SCLR in peer stress situations may indicate fearlessness, whereas higher SCLR may be indicative of feelings of anxiety.

Essentially, the skin conductance levels shows sweating responses and its association with peer victimization and externalizing behaviour.

Jenny Galvao_smallAbout the Author: Jenny Galvao is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph studying psychology.





Gregson, K.D., Kelly M. Tu, & Stephen A. Erath. Sweating under pressure: skin conductance level reactivity moderates the association between peer victimization and externalizing behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2014. 55: 1, 22-30. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12086