Objective: In the past few years there has been a growing interest in studying brain functioning in natural, real-life situations. Mobile EEG allows to study the brain in real unconstrained environments but it faces the intrinsic challenge that it is impossible to disentangle observed changes in brain activity due to increase in cognitive demands by the complex natural environment or due to the physical involvement. In this work we aim to disentangle the influence of cognitive demands and distractions that arise from such outdoor unconstrained recordings.
Approach: We evaluate the ERP and single trial characteristics of a three-class auditory oddball paradigm recorded in outdoor scenario's while peddling on a fixed bike or biking freely around. In addition we also carefully evaluate the trial specific motion artifacts through independent gyro measurements and control for muscle artifacts.
Main results: A decrease in P300 amplitude was observed in the free biking condition as compared to the fixed bike conditions. Above chance P300 single-trial classification in highly dynamic real life environments while biking outdoors was achieved. Certain significant artifact patterns were identified in the free biking condition, but neither these nor the increase in movement (as derived from continuous gyrometer measurements) can explain the differences in classification accuracy and P300 waveform differences with full clarity. The increased cognitive load in real-life scenarios is shown to play a major role in the observed differences.
Significance: Our findings suggest that auditory oddball results measured in natural real-life scenarios are influenced mainly by increased cognitive load due to being in an unconstrained environment.