Interactive Effects of Physical and Mental Workload: A Study of Muscle Function, Capacity and Exertion Type
Mehta, Ranjana K.
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Workers experience combined physical and mental demands in their daily jobs, yet the contribution of these concurrent demands in the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) is not clearly understood. There is a need to understand how concurrent demands interact with different work parameters, such as force levels, muscles employed, and types of exertion, to influence physiological responses. Furthermore, whether muscle capacity is altered with these concurrent demands remains unclear. The current research was conducted to address these needs through three experimental studies that evaluated changes in physiological, performance, and subjective measures. The first study investigated muscle-specific responses to concurrent physical and mental demands during intermittent static work. Mental demands adversely affected physiological responses with increasing physical demand. Furthermore, greater motor and mental performance impairment was observed at either end of the physical demand spectrum. Finally, these interactions were muscle-dependent, with postural (shoulder and torso) muscles indicating a greater propensity to interference due to concurrent demands than executive (wrist) muscles. The aim of the second study was to evaluate differential effects of exertion type (static and dynamic) during concurrent physical and mental work. Concurrent physical and mental demands adversely affected physiological responses during static exertions compared to dynamic exertions. Furthermore, static exertions were more susceptible to decrements in muscle output and mental task performance than dynamic exertions, specifically at higher force levels. The last study quantified the effects of concurrent physical and mental demands on muscle capacity (endurance, fatigue, and recovery) during intermittent static work. Additional mental processing was associated with shorter endurance times, greater strength decline, increased fatigability, and slower cardiovascular recovery. Concurrent demand conditions were also associated with higher levels of perceived fatigue, and rapid increases in rates of perceived exertion, time pressure, mental load, and stress. Overall, the current research provides a comprehensive understanding of the interactive effects of physical and mental demands on physiological responses and task performance. These findings may facilitate the development of task design strategies to help reduce the risk of workplace injuries and to increase worker performance. Finally, outcomes from this research can contribute towards the revision of current ergonomic guidelines to incorporate concurrent assessment of physical and mental demands.
- Doctoral Dissertations