Examining Mental Workload in a Spatial Navigation Transfer Game via Functional near Infrared Spectroscopy

Brain Sci. 2021 Jan 4;11(1):45. doi: 10.3390/brainsci11010045.


The goal of this study was to examine the effects of task-related variables, such as the difficulty level, problem scenario, and experiment week, on performance and mental workload of 27 healthy adult subjects during problem solving within the spatial navigation transfer (SNT) game. The study reports task performance measures such as total time spent on a task (TT) and reaction time (RT); neurophysiological measures involving the use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS); and a subjective rating scale for self-assessment of mental workload (NASA TLX) to test the related hypotheses. Several within-subject repeated-measures factorial ANOVA models were developed to test the main hypothesis. The results revealed a number of interaction effects for the dependent measures of TT, RT, fNIRS, and NASA TLX. The results showed (1) a decrease in TT and RT across the three levels of difficulty from Week 1 to Week 2; (2) an increase in TT and RT for high and medium cognitive load tasks as compared to low cognitive load tasks in both Week 1 and Week 2; (3) an overall increase in oxygenation from Week 1 to Week 2. These findings confirmed that both the behavioral performance and mental workload were sensitive to task manipulations.

Keywords: cognitive load; functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS); mental workload; problem solving; spatial navigation game.