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J Neural Eng. 2012 Aug;9(4):045008. doi: 10.1088/1741-2560/9/4/045008. Epub 2012 Jul 25.

Estimating workload using EEG spectral power and ERPs in the n-back task.

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TNO Perceptual and Cognitive Systems, PO Box 23, 3769 ZG Soesterberg, The Netherlands.


Previous studies indicate that both electroencephalogram (EEG) spectral power (in particular the alpha and theta band) and event-related potentials (ERPs) (in particular the P300) can be used as a measure of mental work or memory load. We compare their ability to estimate workload level in a well-controlled task. In addition, we combine both types of measures in a single classification model to examine whether this results in higher classification accuracy than either one alone. Participants watched a sequence of visually presented letters and indicated whether or not the current letter was the same as the one (n instances) before. Workload was varied by varying n. We developed different classification models using ERP features, frequency power features or a combination (fusion). Training and testing of the models simulated an online workload estimation situation. All our ERP, power and fusion models provide classification accuracies between 80% and 90% when distinguishing between the highest and the lowest workload condition after 2 min. For 32 out of 35 participants, classification was significantly higher than chance level after 2.5 s (or one letter) as estimated by the fusion model. Differences between the models are rather small, though the fusion model performs better than the other models when only short data segments are available for estimating workload.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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