Working memory tasks, such as n-back and arithmetic tasks, are frequently used in studying mental workload. The present study investigated and compared the sensitivity of several physiological measures at three levels of difficulty of n-back and arithmetic tasks. The results showed significant differences in fixation duration and pupil diameter among three task difficulty levels for both n-back and arithmetic tasks. Pupil diameters increase with increasing mental workload, whereas fixation duration decreases. Blink duration and heart rate (HR) were significantly increased as task difficulty increased in the n-back task, while root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD) and standard deviation of R-R intervals (SDNN) were significantly decreased in the arithmetic task. On the other hand, blink rate and Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) were not sensitive enough to assess the differences in task difficulty for both tasks. All significant physiological measures yielded significant differences between low and high task difficulty except for SDNN. Practitioner summary: This study aimed to assess the sensitivity levels of several physiological measures of mental workload in n-back and arithmetic tasks. It showed that pupil diameter was the most sensitive in both tasks. This study also found that most physiological indices are sensitive to an extreme change in task difficulty levels.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • GSR
  • SDNN
  • eye activity
  • heart rate
  • working memory task


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