We examine the spatiotemporal dynamics of neural activity and its correlates in heart rate and its variability (HR/HRV) during a fatiguing visuospatial working memory task.
The neural and physiological drivers of fatigue are complex, coupled, and poorly understood. Investigations that combine the fidelity of neural indices and the field-readiness of physiological measures can facilitate measurements of fatigue states in operational settings.
Sixteen healthy adults, balanced by sex, completed a 60-minute fatiguing visuospatial working memory task. Changes in task performance, subjective measures of effort and fatigue, cerebral hemodynamics, and HR/HRV were analyzed. Peak brain activation, functional and effective connections within relevant brain networks were contrasted against spectral and temporal features of HR/HRV.
Task performance elicited increased neural activation in regions responsible for maintaining working memory capacity. With the onset of time-on-task effects, resource utilization was seen to increase beyond task-relevant networks. Over time, functional connections in the prefrontal cortex were seen to weaken, with changes in the causal relationships between key regions known to drive working memory. HR/HRV indices were seen to closely follow activity in the prefrontal cortex.
This investigation provided a window into the neurophysiological underpinnings of working memory under the time-on-task effect. HR/HRV was largely shown to mirror changes in cortical networks responsible for working memory, therefore supporting the possibility of unobtrusive state recognition under ecologically valid conditions.
Findings here can inform the development of a fieldable index for cognitive fatigue.