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Cognitive Workload of Tugboat Captains in Realistic Scenarios: Adaptive Spatial Filtering for Transfer Between Conditions

Miklody, Daniel; Blankertz, Benjamin

Changing and often class-dependent non-stationarities of signals are a big challenge in the transfer of common findings in cognitive workload estimation using Electroencephalography (EEG) from laboratory experiments to realistic scenarios or other experiments. Additionally, it often remains an open question whether actual cognitive workload reflected by brain signals was the main contribution to the estimation or discriminative and class-dependent muscle and eye activity, which can be secondary effects of changing workload levels. Within this study, we investigated a novel approach to spatial filtering based on beamforming adapted to changing settings. We compare it to no spatial filtering and Common Spatial Patterns (CSP). We used a realistic maneuvering task, as well as an auditory n-back secondary task on a tugboat simulator as two different conditions to induce workload changes on professional tugboat captains. Apart from the typical within condition classification, we investigated the ability of the different classification methods to transfer between the n-back condition and the maneuvering task. The results show a clear advantage of the proposed approach over the others in the challenging transfer setting. While no filtering leads to lowest within-condition normalized classification loss on average in two scenarios (22 and 10%), our approach using adaptive beamforming (30 and 18%) performs comparably to CSP (33 and 15%). Importantly, in the transfer from one to another setting, no filtering and CSP lead to performance around chance level (45 to 53%), while our approach in contrast is the only one capable of classifying in all other scenarios (34 and 35%) with a significant difference from chance level. The changing signal composition over the scenarios leads to a need to adapt the spatial filtering in order to be transferable. With our approach, the transfer is successful due to filtering being optimized for the extraction of neural components and additional investigation of their scalp patterns revealed mainly neural origin. Interesting findings are that rather the patterns slightly change between conditions. We conclude that the approaches with low normalized loss depend on eye and muscle activity which is successful for classification within conditions, but fail in the classifier transfer since eye and muscle contributions are highly condition-specific.
Published in: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10.3389/fnhum.2022.818770, Frontiers