Quantifying cognitive workload and defining training time requirements using thermography
McFadyen, M. Gary
Effective mental workload measurement is critical because mental workload significantly affects human performance. A non-invasive and objective workload measurement tool is needed to overcome limitations of current mental workload measures. Further, training/learning increases mental workload during skill or knowledge acquisition, followed by a decreased mental workload, though sufficient training times are unknown. The objectives of this study were to: (1) investigate the efficacy of using thermography as a non-contact physiological measure to quantify mental workload, (2) quantify and describe the relationship between mental workload and learning/training, and, (3) introduce a method to determine a sufficient training time and an optimal human performance level for a novel task by using thermography. Three studies were conducted to address these objectives. The first study investigated the efficacy of using thermography to quantity the relationship between mental workload and facial temperature changes while learning an alpha-numeric task. Thermography measured and quantified the mental workload level successfully. Strong and significant correlations were found among thermography, performance, and subjective workload measures (MCH and SWAT ratings). The second study investigated the utility of using a psychophysical approach to determine workload levels that maximize performance on a cognitive task. The second study consisted of an adjustment session (participants adjusted their own workload levels) and work session (participants worked at the chosen workload level). Participants were found to fall into two performance groups (low and high performers by accuracy rate) and results were significantly different. Thermography demonstrated whether both group found their optimal workload level. The last study investigated efficacy of using thermography to quantify mental workload level in a complex training/learning environment. Experienced drivers’ performance data was used as criteria to indicate whether novice drivers mastered the driving skills. Strong and significant correlations were found among thermography, subjective workload measures, and performance measures in novice drivers. This study verified that thermography is a reliable and valid way to measure workload as a non-invasive and objective method. Also, thermography provided more practical results than subjective workload measures for simple and complex cognitive tasks. Thermography showed the capability to identify a sufficient training time for simple or complex cognitive tasks.