A framework to estimate cognitive load using physiological data

Muneeb Imtiaz Ahmad, Ingo Keller, David A. Robb, Katrin Solveig Lohan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


Cognitive load has been widely studied to help understand human performance. It is desirable to monitor user cognitive load in applications such as automation, robotics, and aerospace to achieve operational safety and to improve user experience. This can allow efficient workload management and can help to avoid or to reduce human error. However, tracking cognitive load in real time with high accuracy remains a challenge. Hence, we propose a framework to detect cognitive load by non-intrusively measuring physiological data from the eyes and heart. We exemplify and evaluate the framework where participants engage in a task that induces different levels of cognitive load. The framework uses a set of classifiers to accurately predict low, medium and high levels of cognitive load. The classifiers achieve high predictive accuracy. In particular, Random Forest and Naive Bayes performed best with accuracies of 91.66% and 85.83% respectively. Furthermore, we found that, while mean pupil diameter change for both right and left eye were the most prominent features, blinking rate also made a moderately important contribution to this highly accurate prediction of low, medium and high cognitive load. The existing results on accuracy considerably outperform prior approaches and demonstrate the applicability of our framework to detect cognitive load.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2027-2041
Number of pages15
JournalPersonal and Ubiquitous Computing
Issue number6
Early online date27 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Cognitive load
  • Framework
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Physiological data


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