Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Mengting Zhao, Information and Systems Engineering

Quantifying Cognitive Workload and Mental Capacity from EEG Signals under Complex Cognitive Activities

Wednesday, December 14, 2022 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer

When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


The objective of the present research is to quantify the changes in cognitive workload, mental capacity, and their impact on performance when people are conducting complex cognitive activities using EEG-based analysis. Design activities are one of the fundamental human activities where a designer’s mental effort is applied to create product descriptions (design solution) from an initial design problem, involves looping and jumping among design problem, design knowledge, and design solutions. Considering the simultaneous involvement of multiple cognitive functions including problem understanding, analyzing, evaluating, and creating within a design process, design activities are also considered as representative examples of complex cognitive activities. Using design activities as a starting point, the present study conducted a series of theoretical analyses and literature reviews to identify the opportunities and challenges for applying EEG to quantify designers' cognitive changes, including cognitive workload and mental capacity. The research questions and objectives were formulated based on my pilot studies in applying and extending the stress model, leading to the methodology of the present research. A new framework (tEEG framework) has been proposed to address the identified challenges as a result of our past research attempts and theoretical analyses, which also serves as the foundation for the present research. Afterward, the proposed tEEG framework was applied for quantitatively monitoring changes in people's cognitive workload and cognitive control within and beyond the context of design, where mental capacity was considered as the umbrella of numerous cognitive factors including cognitive control. Finally, my research goal is to establish a quantitative representation of the stress model that could serve as a bridge between the quantification results of different cognitive factors and the performance variations. The present research proposes and tests a quantitative approach with simulation results, and the ongoing study will conduct further analysis along this direction with experimental data.

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