Guidelines for Wrist-Worn Consumer Wearables Assessment of Heart Rate in Biobehavioral Research


Researchers have increasingly begun to use consumer wearables or wrist-worn smartwatches and fitness monitors for measurement of cardiovascular psychophysiological processes related to mental and physical health outcomes. These devices have strong appeal because they allow for continuous, scalable, unobtrusive, and ecologically valid data collection of cardiac activity in “big data” studies. However, replicability and reproducibility may be hampered moving forward due to the lack of standardization of data collection and processing procedures and inconsistent reporting of technological factors (e.g., device type, firmware versions, sampling rate), biobehavioral variables (e.g., body mass index, wrist dominance and circumference), and participant demographic characteristics, such as skin tone, that may influence heart rate measurement. These limitations introduce unnecessary noise into measurement, which can cloud interpretation and generalizability of findings. This paper provides a brief overview of research using commercial wearable devices to measure heart rate, reviews literature on device accuracy, and outlines the challenges that non-standardized reporting pose for the field. We also discuss study design, technological, biobehavioral, and demographic factors that can impact the accuracy of the passive sensing of heart rate measurements, and provide guidelines and corresponding handouts for future study data collection and design, data cleaning and processing, analysis, and reporting that may help ameliorate some of these barriers and inconsistencies in the literature.

npj Digital Medicine