Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 229–239 | Cite as

Monitoring of mental workload levels during an everyday life office-work scenario

  • Burcu CinazEmail author
  • Bert Arnrich
  • Roberto La Marca
  • Gerhard Tröster
Original Article


Personal and ubiquitous healthcare applications offer new opportunities to prevent long-term health damage due to increased mental workload by continuously monitoring physiological signs related to prolonged high workload and providing just-in-time feedback. In order to achieve a quantification of mental load, different load levels that occur during a workday have to be discriminated. In this work, we present how mental workload levels in everyday life scenarios can be discriminated with data from a mobile ECG logger by incorporating individual calibration measures. We present an experiment design to induce three different levels of mental workload in calibration sessions and to monitor mental workload levels in everyday life scenarios of seven healthy male subjects. Besides the recording of ECG data, we collect subjective ratings of the perceived workload with the NASA Task Load Index (TLX), whereas objective measures are assessed by collecting salivary cortisol. According to the subjective ratings, we show that all participants perceived the induced load levels as intended from the experiment design. The heart rate variability (HRV) features under investigation can be classified into two distinct groups. Features in the first group, representing markers associated with parasympathetic nervous system activity, show a decrease in their values with increased workload. Features in the second group, representing markers associated with sympathetic nervous system activity or predominance, show an increase in their values with increased workload. We employ multiple regression analysis to model the relationship between relevant HRV features and the subjective ratings of NASA-TLX in order to predict the mental workload levels during office-work. The resulting predictions were correct for six out of the seven subjects. In addition, we compare the performance of three classification methods to identify the mental workload level during office-work. The best results were obtained with linear discriminant analysis (LDA) that yielded a correct classification for six out of the seven subjects. The k-nearest neighbor algorithm (k-NN) and the support vector machine (SVM) resulted in a correct classification of the mental workload level during office-work for five out of the seven subjects.


Personal and ubiquitous healthcare Mental workload Office-work Heart rate variability Stress 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Burcu Cinaz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bert Arnrich
    • 1
  • Roberto La Marca
    • 1
  • Gerhard Tröster
    • 1
  1. 1.ETH ZurichElectronics LaboratoryZurichSwitzerland

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