Amplitude and bilateral coherency of facial and jaw‐elevator EMG activity as an index of effort during a two‐choice serial reaction task

A. Van Boxtel*, M. Jessurun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In earlier studies, positive but inconsistent relationships have been reported between mental effort and electro‐myogram (EMG) amplitude in task‐irrelevant limb muscles. In this study, we explored whether facial EMG activity would provide more consistent results. Tonic EMG activity of six different facial and jaw‐elevator muscles was bilaterally recorded during a two‐choice serial reaction task with paced presentation of auditory or visual signals. In Experiment 1, task load (signal presentation rate) was kept constant for 20 min at the level of the subject's maximal capacity. In Experiment 2, task load was increased in a stepwise fashion over six successive 2‐min periods from sub‐ to supramaximal capacity levels. EMG amplitude and coherency between momentary bilateral amplitude fluctuations were measured. In Experiment 1, EMG amplitude of frontalis, corrugator supercilii, and orbicularis oris inferior showed a strong gradual increase throughout the task period, whereas task performance remained fairly stable. Orbicularis oculi, zygomaticus major, and temporalis EMG showed a much smaller increase or no increase. In Experiment 2, the first three muscles showed a fairly consistent increase in EMG amplitude with increasing task load. Orbicularis oculi and zygomaticus major were not active until task load became supramaximal. Effects of stimulus modality or laterality were not found in any experiment. These results are consistent with the notion that EMG amplitude of frontalis, corrugator, and orbicularis oris provides a sensitive index of the degree of exerted mental effort.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-604
JournalPsychophysiology
Volume30
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1993

Keywords

  • Bilateral EMG coherency
  • Facial muscle EMG
  • Jaw‐elevator EMG
  • Mental effort
  • Mental task load

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