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The principal reason for measuring mental workload is to quantify the cognitive cost of performing tasks to predict human performance. Unfortunately, a method for assessing mental workload that has general applicability does not exist yet. This is due to the abundance of intuitions and several operational definitions from various fields that disagree about the sources or workload, its attributes, the mechanisms to aggregate these into a general model and their impact on human performance. This research built upon these issues and presents a novel method for mental workload modelling from EEG data employing deep learning. This method is self-supervised, employing a continuous brain rate, an index of cognitive activation, and does not require human declarative knowledge. The aim is to induce models automatically from data, supporting replicability, generalisability and applicability across fields and contexts. This specific method is a convolutional recurrent neural network trainable with spatially preserving spectral topographic head-maps from EEG data, aimed at fitting a novel brain rate variable. Findings demonstrate the capacity of the convolutional layers to learn meaningful high-level representations from EEG data since within-subject models had, on average, a test Mean Absolute Percentage Error of around 11%. The addition of a Long- Short Term Memory layer for handling sequences of high-level representations was not significant, although it did improve their accuracy. These findings point to the existence of quasi-stable blocks of automatically learnt high-level representations of cognitive activation because they can be induced through convolution and seem not to be dependent on each other over time, intuitively matching the non-stationary nature of brain responses. Additionally, across-subject models, induced with data from an increasing number of participants, thus trained with data containing more variability, obtained a similar accuracy to the within-subject models. This highlights the potential generalisability of the induced high-level representations across people, suggesting the existence of subject-independent cognitive activation patterns. This research contributes to the body of knowledge by providing scholars with a novel computational method for mental workload modelling that aims to be generally applicable and does not rely on ad hoc human crafted models.

DOI brainsci12101416


This research received no external funding

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.