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Working With Environmental Noise and Noise-Cancelation: A Workload Assessment With EEG and Subjective Measures

Pieper, Kerstin; Spang, Robert P.; Prietz, Pablo; Möller, Sebastian; Paajanen, Erkki; Vaalgamaa, Markus; Voigt-Antons, Jan-Niklas

Quality and Usability Lab

As working and learning environments become open and flexible, people are also potentially surrounded by ambient noise, which causes an increase in mental workload. The present study uses electroencephalogram (EEG) and subjective measures to investigate if noise-canceling technologies can fade out external distractions and free up mental resources. Therefore, participants had to solve spoken arithmetic tasks that were read out via headphones in three sound environments: a quiet environment (no noise), a noisy environment (noise), and a noisy environment but with active noise-canceling headphones (noise-canceling). Our results of brain activity partially confirm an assumed lower mental load in no noise and noise-canceling compared to noise test condition. The mean P300 activation at Cz resulted in a significant differentiation between the no noise and the other two test conditions. Subjective data indicate an improved situation for the participants when using the noise-canceling technology compared to “normal” headphones but shows no significant discrimination. The present results provide a foundation for further investigations into the relationship between noise-canceling technology and mental workload. Additionally, we give recommendations for an adaptation of the test design for future studies.