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Neural, physiological, and behavioral correlates of visuomotor cognitive load using functional NIRS

Visuomotor ability is quite crucial for everyday functioning, particularly in driving and sports. While there is accumulating evidence regarding neural correlates of visuomotor transformation, less is known about the brain regions that accommodate visuomotor mapping under different cognitive demands. We concurrently measured cortical activity and pupillary response, using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and eye-tracking glasses, to examine the neural systems linked to pupil dilation under varying cognitive demands. Twenty-three healthy adults performed two sessions of a navigation task, in which the cognitive load was manipulated by either reversing the visuomotor mapping or increasing the speed of the moving object. We identified a region in the right superior parietal lobule that responded to both types of visuomotor load and its activity was associated with larger pupillary response and better performance in the task. Our multimodal analyses suggest that activity in this region arises from the need for increased attentional effort and alertness for visuomotor control and is an ideal candidate for objective measurement of visuomotor cognitive load. Our data extend previous findings connecting changes in pupil diameter to neural activity under varying cognitive demand and have important implications for examining brain-behavior associations in real-world tasks such as driving and sports.

J. Christian Gerdes
Seyed Hosseini
Jennifer Bruno
Joseph Baker
Andrew Gundran
Lene K. Harbott
Allan Reiss
Scientific Reports 7(1):8866
Publication Date
August, 2017