Mental fatigue and the control of cognitive processes: effects on perseveration and planning

Acta Psychol (Amst). 2003 May;113(1):45-65. doi: 10.1016/s0001-6918(02)00150-6.


We tested whether behavioural manifestations of mental fatigue may be linked to compromised executive control, which refers to the ability to regulate perceptual and motor processes for goal-directed behaviour. In complex tasks, compromised executive control may become manifest as decreased flexibility and sub-optimal planning. In the study we use the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST) and the Tower of London (TOL), which respectively measure flexibility (e.g., perseverative errors) and planning. A simple memory task was used as a control measure. Fatigue was induced through working for 2 h on cognitively demanding tasks. The results showed that compared to a non-fatigued group, fatigued participants displayed more perseveration on the WCST and showed prolonged planning time on the TOL. Fatigue did not affect performance on the simple memory task. These findings indicate compromised executive control under fatigue, which may explain the typical errors and sub-optimal performance that are often found in fatigued people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Fatigue / diagnosis
  • Mental Fatigue / psychology*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Self Efficacy*