Chapter 12 - Neural Efficiency and Mental Workload: Locating the Red Line

Stephen Fairclough, Kate Ewing, Christopher Burns, Ute Kreplin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Mental workload is often measured using multidimensional measures which aim to identify a “redline” or region of “overload” when operator performance is jeopardized by overwhelming levels of cognitive demand. This chapter addresses two issues in this field: the role of motivation in mental workload research, particularly with respect to the quantification of workload “red lines,” and the use of composite measures to describe the interaction between performance and neurophysiological activation as an index of neural efficiency. Two studies are summarized where participants experienced various levels of working memory load, from easy to impossible levels of task demand. The first manipulated extrinsic motivation (financial reward) alongside working memory load and measured theta power at the frontal–medial location. The second study assessed brain activation with respect to neurovascular activation (via functional near-infrared spectroscopy) in response to working memory load. Data is provided to demonstrate the sensitivity and potential benefit of neural efficiency as a neuroergonomic index of mental workload.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeuroergonomics
Subtitle of host publicationThe Brain at Work and in Everyday Life
EditorsHasan Ayaz, Frédéric Dehais
PublisherAcademic Press
Number of pages5
ISBN (Print)978-0-12-811926-6
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2019


  • Mental workload
  • Neural efficiency
  • Overload
  • Performance
  • Red lines
  • Working memory


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