What factors are responsible for urban stress? This research project uses innovative measurement technologies to find out.

This project is finished, the results are being processed.

Nervocity is an experimental research project into stress, for which imec works together with the City of Ghent and Sentiance and is funded by Agentschap Innoveren & Ondernemen (Vlaio). Specifically, it looks into the causes of stress for people who live or work in Ghent.

How do we define stress? As the excited or tense feeling that makes you edgy, focused, emotional or restless – sometimes with physical consequences.

Stress comes in many flavors. Like what you experience when you have to give a speech at your sister’s wedding. When you get a bad review at work. Or when you’re looking forward to a parcel that’s supposed to arrive in two hours’ time.

In a city such as Ghent, there can be a lot of causes for stress:

  • In the supermarket, the checkout line next to you always seems to advance a little bit faster.
  • Despite the generous availability of rubbish bins, the public squares are filled with litter.
  • Just when you bike past a car, its door opens.
  • You fail to efficiently work from home because the neighbors make too much noise.
  • Because of your many care responsibilities, you no longer have even a minute for yourself.
  • You avoid certain neighborhoods because they make you feel unsafe.

Nervocity aims to map all these stress factors. Because only then does it become possible to effectively act and reduce urban stress. For instance by changing the city infrastructure or making other policy choices. That’s why the City of Ghent supports this project.

These are the partners that join forces for Nervocity:

  • The imec research groups MICT and SMIT take up qualitative and quantitative research through a survey, interviews and questions in the Nervocity app.
  • Imec’s Application Prototyping team develops the Nervocity app and the method to ascertain the experiences of the participants.
  • The imec.livinglabs team recruits and supports the participants.
  • Imec’s Connected Health Solutions team devises a stress model to interpret the measurements.
  • Imec’s IDLAB creates a model that recognizes activities.
  • Sentiance delivers added value through location data and their interpretation.

How does the research project work?

Nervocity started in 2019 with a survey by the City of Ghent and imec. We looked at how people in Ghent experience stress. No less than 4995 people, of which 2958 residents of Ghent, answered a wide variety of questions related to themes such as:

  • commuting behavior
  • the neighborhood
  • the experience of urban stress
  • mental wellbeing and attitude towards life

On top of that, we asked for demographic data such as age and level of education.

Now it’s time for the next step: planning a field test in three waves. We’ll ask people who live and/or work (on-site) in Ghent to walk around for two months with a smart bracelet that measures their stress.

Surprising as it may sound, it’s possible to measure stress. When you experience stress – even unconsciously – your body gives it away. You sweat a bit more, your heart beats faster, and so on. The smart bracelet registers that and sends the results to a smartphone app.

Participants can check the app to see when they had stress. And they can then try to determine what may have caused it. We also ask them to fill in a short questionnaire. For instance when we measure a peak in their stress level. Or at random moments to check if their device still functions properly.

A few participants receive an invitation for a personal interview. We then look at the quality of the stress measurements and explore if there’s any room for improvement.

We match the stress measurements to other data such as social and environmental factors. The connections we hope to find will provide valuable insights for partners in the health and welfare sector.

Want to know more about Nervocity?

Send your question about this project to

If you live or work (on-site) in Ghent, you can also participate in the field test. For more information, go to this page (in Dutch).

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