A multifaceted investigation of the link between mental fatigue and task disengagement

Psychophysiology. 2015 Mar;52(3):305-15. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12339. Epub 2014 Sep 26.


Mental fatigue is often characterized by reduced motivation for effortful activity and impaired task performance. We used subjective, behavioral (performance), and psychophysiological (P3, pupil diameter) measures during an n-back task to investigate the link between mental fatigue and task disengagement. After 2 h, we manipulated the rewards to examine a possible reengagement effect. Analyses showed that, with increasing fatigue and time-on-task, performance, P3 amplitude, and pupil diameter decreased. After increasing the rewards, all measures reverted to higher levels. Multilevel analysis revealed positive correlations between the used measures with time-on-task. We interpret these results as support for a strong link between task disengagement and mental fatigue.

Keywords: Fatigue; Motivation; P3; Pupil diameter; Task engagement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Fatigue / psychology*
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reward
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult