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Electrodermal Activity and Eye Movements Inform the Usability of Passwords



Jennifer R. Bergstrom, Kristen K. Greene, David C. Hawkins, Christian Gonzalez


While measuring physiological responses is a common practice in the field of neuroscience, it is rare in the usability arena and in password usability studies, in particular. This is unfortunate, as the use of such implicit measures could complement more traditional, explicit metrics of performance like password entry times and errors. Capturing participants' electrodermal activity (i.e., skin conductance response [SCR]) and eye-movement patterns during password entry can provide unique insights about users' intentions, perceptions of difficulty, and emotional state that would otherwise be impossible to gain via behavioral and self-report measures. We expect SCR for more difficult passwords to be of greater amplitude and frequency than SCR for easier passwords, where password difficulty is a function of multiple password composition factors such as overall length and frequency of special symbols. Additionally, more difficult passwords should result in more repeat fixations, fixations that are more frequent and of longer duration than for easier passwords. Physiological measures may improve password difficulty classification accuracy of a naïve Bayesian classifier over and above behavioral measures of error rates and completion times. The potential to differentiate difficult from easy passwords based on SCR and fixation frequency and duration implies that we have indeed found a promising use for implicit indicators of stress, encoding, and retrieval processes associated with password learning and entry across devices. The current exploratory work demonstrates the potential practical value of combining physiological and behavioral measures in password usability research. This should be of interest to the usability, security, and neuroscience research communities, as it provides a novel measurement approach for the former and an interesting applied research problem for the latter.
Proceedings Title
Neuroscience 2014 Abstracts. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
Conference Dates
November 15-19, 2014
Conference Location
Washington, DC, US
Conference Title
Neuroscience 2014, the 44th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN 2014)


behavioral measures, eye movement patterns, fixations, implicit measures, password classification, skin conductance response


Bergstrom, J. , Greene, K. , Hawkins, D. and Gonzalez, C. (2014), Electrodermal Activity and Eye Movements Inform the Usability of Passwords, Neuroscience 2014 Abstracts. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience., Washington, DC, US (Accessed June 16, 2024)


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Created November 17, 2014, Updated October 12, 2021