We aimed to evaluate the effects of mental workload variations, as a function of the road environment, on the brain activity of army drivers performing combat and non-combat scenarios in a light multirole vehicle dynamic simulator. Forty-one non-commissioned officers completed three standardized driving exercises with different terrain complexities (low, medium, and high) while we recorded their electroencephalographic (EEG) activity. We focused on variations in the theta EEG power spectrum, a well-known index of mental workload. We also assessed performance and subjective ratings of task load. The theta EEG power spectrum in the frontal, temporal, and occipital areas were higher during the most complex scenarios. Performance (number of engine stops) and subjective data supported these findings. Our findings strengthen previous results found in civilians on the relationship between driver mental workload and the theta EEG power spectrum. This suggests that EEG activity can give relevant insight into mental workload variations in an objective, unbiased fashion, even during real training and/or operations. The continuous monitoring of the warfighter not only allows instantaneous detection of over/underload but also might provide online feedback to the system (either automated equipment or the crew) to take countermeasures and prevent fatal errors.
Keywords: EEG; Humvee; brain activity; cognition; driving simulation; neuroergonomics; tank.