Experimental Ergonomics

By experimental ergonomics we mean the development and testing of new methods for recording mental stress at the workplace and its effect on information processing. This research area thus bridges the gap between foundation and application in ergonomics.

Head of department
Prof. Dr. Edmund Wascher
Judith Geiger
Ardeystr. 67
44139 Dortmund

Head of Department

Information processing is an essential part of modern workplaces. Incorrect and too much information can lead to mental stress, which in turn has a negative effect on information processing. Elementary work has been done on this circuit so far, separately for basic research and application areas. One aim of the work in the research group is to close the gap between the study of specific aspects of information processing and the recording of mental stress in the highly controlled laboratory and applied research in natural environments, which has so far been dominated by subjective assessment. This is done by developing new applications and analyses based on mobile EEG.

Two aspects are the in focus of the work of Experimental Ergonomics:

1) The systematic evaluation of the influence of external and internal factors (human factors) on mental strain and information processing. These experiments are conducted in the laboratory. An essential factor here is the influence of acute stress on cognition.

2) The establishment of mobile neurocognitive measurements in scenarios with varying degrees of naturalness to the workplace (neuroergonomics). The focus is on the development of methods aimed at extracting parameters of mental strain and cognitive processing from the EEG. This is done from recordings in completely unconstrained and uncontrolled environments. The latter also involved the use of machine learning in EEG analysis. This way, the group was able to establish completely new approaches to mental demands in the workplace.

Human Factors

Senior scientists: Stefan Arnau, Mauro Larrá
Scientific staff: Nathalie Liegel, Leon von Haugwitz, Emad Alyan

This research approach aims at a general consideration of mental strain in its interaction with external (e.g., interruptions) and internal (e.g., motivation) factors. Three goals are pursued: 1) to find reliable and valid EEG parameters that objectively reflect mental states in different scenarios, 2) to show how basic information processing mechanisms are altered by these factors, and 3) to demonstrate that these approaches can be applied to real workplaces.

More information on human factors

The starting point of this topic is the continuously progressing research on mental fatigue and "mind wandering". We can show that closely timed changes in alpha and theta reflect participants' engagement in tasks, which is associated with changes in the efficiency of executive functions.

In addition, we have established a stress laboratory (Cold Pressor Lab) that allows us to induce stress in a highly standardized and temporally precise manner. Using EEG and peripheral physiological measurements, we investigate rapid non-genomic as well as later onset effects of stress.  For example, we have shown that cortisol-based stress effects influence attentional guidance and increased cardioafferent activation leads to changes in the processing of cognitive conflict. In collaboration with the Department of Immunology, we are addressing cytokine responses on different time scales. These approaches should support all studies investigating mental strain in the work context (e.g. EU project SustAge). We were also able to show that subjectively perceived stress in rescue workers differs significantly from physically experienced stress.

Recent publications
  • Arnau, S., Brümmer, T., Liegel, N., & Wascher, E. (2021). Inverse effects of time‐on‐task in task‐related and task‐unrelated theta activity. Psychophysiology, 58(6). https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13805
  • Arnau, S., Löffler, C., Rummel, J., Hagemann, D., Wascher, E., & Schubert, A. (2020). Inter‐trial alpha power indicates mind wandering. Psychophysiology, 57(6). https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13581
  • Arnau, S., Sharifian, F., Wascher, E., & Larra, M. F. (2023). Removing the cardiac field artifact from the EEG using neural network regression. Psychophysiology, e14323. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.14323
  • Finke, J. B., Zhang, X., Plein, D., Schilling, T. M., Schachinger, H., & Larra, M. F. (2021). Combining mental and physical stress: Synergy or interference? Physiol Behav, 233, 113365. https://doi.org/10.101/j.physbeh.2021.113365
  • Larra, M.F., Capellino, S., Schwendich, E., von Haugwitz, L., Reinders, J., & Wascher, E. (2023). Immediate and delayed salivary cytokine responses during repeated exposures to Cold Pressor stress. Neuroimmunomodulation. https://doi.org/10.1159/000529625
  • Larra, M. F., Finke, J. B., Wascher, E., & Schachinger, H. (2020). Disentangling sensorimotor and cognitive cardioafferent effects: A cardiac-cycle-time study on spatial stimulus-response compatibility. Sci Rep,10(1), 4059. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61068-1
  • Larra, M. F., Zhang, X., Finke, J. B., Schachinger, H., Wascher, E., & Arnau, S. (2022). Stress effects on the top-down control of visuospatial attention: Evidence from cue-dependent alpha oscillations. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci, 22(4), 722-735. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-022-00994-1
  • Peifer, C., Hagemann, V., Claus, M., Larra, M. F., Aust, F., Kuhn, M., Owczarek, M., Brode, P., Pacharra, M., Steffens, H., Watzl, C., Wascher, E., & Capellino, S. (2021). Low self-reported stress despite immune-physiological changes in paramedics during rescue operations. EXCLI J, 20, 792-811. https://doi.org/10.17179/excli2021-3617


Senior scientist: Edmund Wascher
Scientific staff: Julian Elias Reiser, Emma Lieker, Emad Alyan, Melanie Karthaus

Cognitive neuroergonomics combines aspects of cognitive ergonomics with neuroscientific methods. In this way, mental strain and its effects on information processing at the workplace can be objectively measured and integrated with neuroscientific models. This is particularly important for those workplaces where only implicit measurement of mental strain is possible. An essential aspect in this context is the development of methods to measure cognitive information processing and the resulting load in very realistic environments without interfering with the natural actions of the participants.

More information on neuroergonomics

In this context, two objectives are sought:

1) To provide objective measures of the mental demands of real-world situations.

2) The change of information processing in real situations shall be made measurable. In order to collect these measures without the external influence of the working activity, behavioral patterns of the working person are used for the analysis, especially eye events (eye blinks, saccades). Through these events, both event-related potentials and event-related perturbations can be calculated, which are very sensitive to changes in cognitive functions caused by mental load. These changes have already been demonstrated in many environments: both in open-field experiments while walking on the institute campus, in a control room simulation, and while driving in a driving simulator.

The application of new AI-based analysis methods is of particular importance at this point, as increasingly complex and multimodal data streams are involved. In addition to neurophysiological methods such as EEG, peripheral physiological measurements are also performed simultaneously with ECG, mobile eye movement and body motion capture. Measurements are performed in natural working environments as well as in the VR gait lab and the hydraulic driving simulator.

Recent publications
  • Alyan E, Wascher E, Arnau S, Kaesemann R, Reiser JE: Operator state in a workplace simulation modulates eye-blink related EEG activity. IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng 31: 1167-1179 (2023)
  • Mohamad Yahaya NA, Awang Rambli DR, Sulaiman S, Merienne F, Alyan E: Design of game-based virtual forests for psychological stress therapy. Forests 14: 288 (2023) (14 pp)
  • Wascher E, Alyan E, Karthaus M, Getzmann S, Arnau S, Reiser JE: Tracking drivers’ minds: Continuous evaluation of mental load and cognitive processing in a realistic driving simulator scenario by means of the EEG. Heliyon 9 (7): e17904 (2023) (13 pp)


  • Karthaus M, Wascher E, Getzmann S: Distraction in the driving simulator: An event-related potential (ERP) study with young, middle-aged, and older drivers. Safety 7 (2): 36 (2021) (17 pp)
  • Karthaus M, Wascher E, Falkenstein M, Getzmann S: The ability of young, middle-aged and older drivers to inhibit visual and auditory distraction in a driving simulator task. Transport Res F 68: 272-284 (2020)
  • Getzmann S, Reiser JE, Karthaus M, Rudinger G, Wascher E: Measuring correlates of mental workload during simulated driving using cEEGrid electrodes: a test–retest reliability analysis. Front Neuroergon 2: 729197 (2021) (16 pp)
  • Wascher E, Arnau S, Reiser JE, Rudinger G, Karthaus M, Rinkenauer G, Dreger F, Getzmann S: Evaluating mental load during realistic driving simulations by means of round the ear electrodes. Front Neurosci 13: 940 (2019) (11 pp)
  • Reiser, J. E., Arnau, S., Rinkenauer, G., & Wascher, E. (2022). Did you even see that? Visual sensory processing of single stimuli under different locomotor loads. PLOS ONE, 17(5), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0267896
  • Wascher, E., Arnau, S., Gutberlet, M., Chuang, L. L., Rinkenauer, G., & Reiser, J. E. (2022). Visual Demands of Walking Are Reflected in Eye-Blink-Evoked EEG-Activity. Applied Sciences, 12(13), 6614. https://doi.org/10.3390/app12136614
  • Wascher, E., Reiser, J., Rinkenauer, G., Larrá, M., Dreger, F. A., Schneider, D., Karthaus, M., Getzmann, S., Gutberlet, M., & Arnau, S. (2023). Neuroergonomics on the Go: An Evaluation of the Potential of Mobile EEG for Workplace Assessment and Design. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 65(1), 86–106. https://doi.org/10.1177/00187208211007707