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Ergonomics. 2013;56(2):182-94. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2012.748219. Epub 2012 Dec 12.

National culture moderates the influence of mental effort on subjective and cardiovascular measures.

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Department of Psychology, University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1, 9712 TS, Groningen, The Netherlands.


Subjective measures of mental effort have been shown to be relatively insensitive in Indonesian participants. An open question is whether this insensitivity reflects how mental effort is experienced or how it is reported. We compared the performance, subjective workload ratings, heart rate and heart-rate variability (HRV) of 31 Dutch and 30 Indonesian participants under single- and dual-task conditions. Indonesians performed faster but less accurately and used a narrower range of subjective workload ratings than did the Dutch. Dutch participants showed a decrease in HRV both in the mid-frequency (MF) and high-frequency bands and an increase in heart rate during task performance compared with the resting period. Indonesians showed this pattern in the MF band only. The decrease of HRV in the MF band in both groups suggests that the relative insensitivity of subjective mental effort scales among Indonesians has to do with how workload is reported rather than with how it is experienced.


The sensitivity of the subjective measures of mental workload has been shown to depend on culture. Here, we show that heart-rate variability reacts similarly to workload in Eastern as in Western participants. This suggests that culture influences more how invested mental effort is reported than how it is experienced psychophysiologically.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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