Ergonomic assessment of a workplace requires the evaluation of physical as well as cognitive aspects of a particular working situation. In particular the latter is hardly possible without interfering in the natural setting. Mobile acquisition of neurophysiological measures (such as parameters of the EEG) may close this gap. At a simulated workplace we tracked older and younger participants with mobile EEG during a 4-5 h work shift. They had to perform either a monotonous cognitive task, a self-paced cognitive task or a self-paced physical task in a predefined order. Self assessment, behavioral performance and spectral measures of the EEG (before most alpha power) indicated that younger participants suffered from monotony. Older adults, on the other hand, were overall impaired by inefficient information processing. This was visible in EEG variations time-locked to eye blinks (blink-related synchronizations), a new measure to investigate cognitive processing in real life environments. Thus, we were able to distinguish between active and passive task-related aspects of mental fatigue without impinging on the natural working situation.
Keywords: aging; mental fatigue; mobile EEG; working environment.