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Combining cognitive and physical work tasks: Short-term effects on fatigue, stress, performance and recovery
University of Gävle, Faculty of Health and Occupational Studies, Department of Occupational Health Science and Psychology, Occupational Health Science. University of Gävle, Centre for Musculoskeletal Research.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4283-4199
2021 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Description
Abstract [en]

Background: Although combinations of physical and cognitive work tasks occurs in working life (both concurrent and alternating), no one has summarized the research regarding such combinations. Very few studies have investigated the effects of alternating physical and cognitive tasks, which have been suggested as an alternative to classic job rotation. The aim with this thesis was to investigate the effects of concurrent and alternating cognitive and physical work tasks on fatigue, stress, recovery, and performance and whether the task difficulty and the temporal pattern is important in this respect. 

Methods: In study I, 48 controlled studies comprising combinations of physical and cognitive work tasks was summarized in a systematic review. In two controlled experiments (study II, III and IV), participants performed alternations of a physical and a cognitive task. In study II and III, the difficulty levels of the cognitive task was varied between conditions, and in study IV, the temporal patterns and cognitive task difficulty was varied between conditions. During work, indicators of fatigue (study II and IV), stress (study III and IV) and performance (study II and IV) was assessed. 

Results: Concurrent physical and cognitive work tasks have a negative impact on biomechanical indicators, fatigue and performance, while the effect on stress seems mixed. Alternating physical and cognitive work tasks leads to some accumulated fatigue over time, with physical recovery taking place during the cognitive task. Indicators of stress did not increase over time, and neither fatigue nor stress was influenced by cognitive task difficulty. 

Conclusions: Concurrent physical and cognitive work should be avoided in working life and if they must be performed, employers should decrease task demands. Alternations on the other hand, could be carried out without excessive fatigue or stress, and with maintained performance. This thesis provides a basis for recommendations on how to properly organize job-rotation schemes. 

Abstract [sv]

Bakgrund: Kombinationer av fysiska och kognitiva arbetsuppgifter förekommer i många yrken (både samtidiga och alternerande), men ännu har ingen sammanfattat forskningen gällande effekterna av sådana kombinationer. Väldigt få studier har undersökt effekterna av alternerande fysiska och kognitiva uppgifter, vilket har föreslagits som ett alternativ till klassisk jobbrotation. Syftet med denna avhandling var att undersöka effekten av samtidiga och alternerande fysiska och kognitiva arbetsuppgifter på trötthet, stress, återhämtning och prestation, och i vilken utsträckning som den kognitiva arbetsuppgiftens svårighetsgrad och tidsmönstret av alterneringarna har betydelse för utfallen.

Metod: I studie I sammanfattades 48 studier bestående av kombinationer av fysiska och kognitiva uppgifter i en systematisk litteraturöversikt. I två kontrollerade experiment (Studie II, III och IV), utförde deltagare alterneringar av en fysisk och en kognitiv uppgift. I studie II och III varierades svårighetsgraden av den kognitiva uppgiften mellan betingelserna, och i studie IV varierades både svårighetsgraden och tidsmönstret av alterneringar mellan betingelserna. Under arbetet mättes indikatorer på trötthet (studie II och IV), stress (studie IIIoch IV) och prestation (studie II och IV).

Resultat: Samtidiga fysiska och kognitiva arbetsuppgifter har en negativ inverkan på biomekaniska indikatorer, trötthet och prestation, medan effekten på stress är mer oklar. Alternerande fysiskt och kognitivt arbete leder till viss ackumulerad trötthet över tid, men med fysisk återhämtning under den kognitiva uppgiften. Indikatorer på stress ökade inte över tid, och varken trötthet eller stress påverkades av den kognitiva uppgiftens svårighetsgrad.

Slutsatser: Samtidiga fysiska kognitiva uppgifter bör undvikas i arbetslivet och om de måste utföras, bör arbetsgivaren minska arbetsuppgiftens krav. Alterneringar verkar å andra sidan kunna utföras utan större påverkan på trötthet och stress, och med bibehållen prestation. Resultaten från den här avhandlingen kan utgöra en bas för rekommendationer om hur arbetsrotationer ska organiseras.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Gävle: Gävle University Press , 2021. , p. 72
Series
Doctoral thesis ; 23
Keywords [en]
physical, repetitive, cognitive, mental, load, variation, job rotation, restoration, allostatic load
Keywords [sv]
fysisk, repetitiv, kognitiv, mental, belastning, variation, arbetsrotation, återhämtning, allostatisk belastning
National Category
Occupational Health and Environmental Health
Research subject
Health-Promoting Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-35467ISBN: 978-91-88145-71-0 (print)ISBN: 978-91-88145-72-7 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-35467DiVA, id: diva2:1539625
Public defence
2021-06-04, Lilla Jadwigasalen 12:108 samt via länk: https://hig-se.zoom.us/j/61899369620, Kungsbäcksvägen 47, 801 76 Gävle, Gävle, 09:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Part of project
Alternerande fysisk och kognitiv arbetsbelastning - effekter på prestation, trötthet och återhämtning, Afa Sjukförsäkringsaktiebolag
Funder
AFA Insurance, 120223Available from: 2021-05-12 Created: 2021-03-24 Last updated: 2021-05-12
List of papers
1. Effects of combining physical and cognitive work tasks - a systematic review
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Effects of combining physical and cognitive work tasks - a systematic review
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(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Occupational Health and Environmental Health
Research subject
Health-Promoting Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-35466 (URN)
Funder
AFA Insurance, 120221
Available from: 2021-03-23 Created: 2021-03-23 Last updated: 2021-03-26Bibliographically approved
2. Alternations between physical and cognitive tasks in repetitive work – Effect of cognitive task difficulty on fatigue development in women
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Alternations between physical and cognitive tasks in repetitive work – Effect of cognitive task difficulty on fatigue development in women
2019 (English)In: Ergonomics, ISSN 0014-0139, E-ISSN 1366-5847, Vol. 62, no 8, p. 1008-1022Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In a context of job rotation, this study determined the extent to which the difficulty of a cognitive task (CT) interspersed between bouts of repetitive, low-intensity work (pipetting) influences recovery from fatigue. Fifteen participants performed three experimental sessions, each comprising 10 repeats of a 7 min + 3 min combination of pipetting and CT. The CT was easy, moderate or hard. Surface electromyography (EMG amplitude of the forearm extensor and trapezius muscles) and self-reports was used to assess fatigability. Perceived fatigue and trapezius EMG amplitude increased during sessions. CT difficulty influenced fatigue development only little, besides forearm extensor EMG increasing more in CT3 than in CT1 and CT2. During CT bouts, fatigability recovered, and to a similar extent irrespective of CT. Thus, CT difficulty influenced recovery of perceived as well as performance fatigability to a minor extent, and may not be a critical issue in job rotation comprising alternating physical and cognitive tasks.

Keywords
Repetitive work, fatigue, recovery, physical load, mental load, variation
National Category
Occupational Health and Environmental Health
Research subject
Health-Promoting Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-26536 (URN)10.1080/00140139.2019.1614229 (DOI)000469647700001 ()31056015 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-85065848351 (Scopus ID)
Funder
AFA Insurance, 120223
Available from: 2018-05-03 Created: 2018-05-03 Last updated: 2021-04-01Bibliographically approved
3. Stress-related responses to alternations between repetitive physical work and cognitive tasks of different difficulties
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Stress-related responses to alternations between repetitive physical work and cognitive tasks of different difficulties
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2020 (English)In: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, ISSN 1661-7827, E-ISSN 1660-4601, Vol. 17, no 22, article id 8509Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Alternating between physical and cognitive tasks has been proposed as an alternative in job rotation, allowing workers to recover from the physical work while still being productive. However, effects of such alternations on stress have not been investigated. This controlled experiment aimed at determining the extent to which stress-related responses develop during alternating physical and cognitive work, and to determine the extent to which cognitive task (CT) difficulty influences these responses. Fifteen women performed three sessions of 10 consecutive work bouts each including a seven-minute repetitive physical task (pipetting) and a three-minute CT (n-back) at one of three difficulty levels. Stress was assessed in terms of changes in heart rate variability, blood pressure, salivary alpha-amylase, salivary cortisol, perceived stress, and cognitive performance. The work session did not result in any marked stress response, and CT difficulty did not significantly influence stress, apart from alpha-amylase being higher at the easiest CT (F = 5.34, p = 0.02). Thus, according to our results, alternating between repetitive physical tasks and cognitive tasks may be a feasible alternative to classic job rotation between physical tasks only, even if the cognitive task is quite difficult. Future studies should address possible effects of the temporal pattern of alternations, and combine even other occupationally relevant tasks, preferably for extended periods of time.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
MDPI, 2020
Keywords
recovery, mental task, physical task, women, repetitive work, job rotation
National Category
Occupational Health and Environmental Health
Research subject
Health-Promoting Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-30459 (URN)10.3390/ijerph17228509 (DOI)000594130400001 ()33212862 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-85096109337 (Scopus ID)
Funder
AFA Insurance, 120223
Available from: 2019-08-06 Created: 2019-08-06 Last updated: 2022-12-13Bibliographically approved
4. Fatigue, stress and performance during alternating physical and cognitive tasks - effects of the temporal patterns of alternations
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Fatigue, stress and performance during alternating physical and cognitive tasks - effects of the temporal patterns of alternations
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2021 (English)In: Annals of Work Exposures and Health, ISSN 2398-7308 , E-ISSN 2398-7316 , Vol. 65, no 9, p. 1107-1121Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In occupational life, performing mental work tasks in-between fatiguing physical work tasks may allow recovery and reduce stress without losing productive working time. The temporal pattern of such alternations is likely a determinant of the recovery effect, influencing both stress and fatigue; the difficulty of the mental task would also be a likely determinant. The aim of this study was to determine to what extent the temporal pattern of alternations between a repetitive physical task and a cognitive task of different difficulties influenced perceived fatigability, performance fatigability, stress-related outcomes, and performance. Fifteen women performed four work sessions comprising 110 minutes of repeated bouts of a repetitive physical task (pipetting), alternating with a cognitive task (CT; n-back). Sessions differed in bout cycletime (short: 7+3 min vs long: 14+6 min) and CT difficulty (easy vs difficult). Fatigue was assessed from recordings of Maximal Voluntary Contraction (MVC) force in shoulder elevations and handgrip pre- and post- work, electromyography (EMG) from the right trapezius and right forearm extensors during work, and repeated self-ratings of fatigue and pain throughout the session. Stress was assessed using electrocardiography (heart rate variability), salivary alpha amylase, and self-reports. Perceived fatigue increased significantly over time for all protocols, and more in long-cycle than short-cycle conditions. EMG activity did not increase markedly over time in any condition. Neither objective nor subjective indicators suggested that stress increased over time, regardless of the temporal pattern. Pipetting performance remained stable in all conditions. Cognitive performance, measured as the proportion of correct and false answers, differed between CT difficulty levels, but remained stable over time, with no significant difference between temporal patterns. In summary, temporal patterns of alternating tasks influenced fatigue to some extent, but had no obvious influence on stress indicators or performance. Thus, alternating cognitive and physical work can serve as a feasible alternative to job rotation between physical tasks only.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Oxford Academic, 2021
Keywords
Mental work, Repetitive work, Recovery, Fatigability, Job rotation
National Category
Occupational Health and Environmental Health
Research subject
Health-Promoting Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-34401 (URN)10.1093/annweh/wxab045 (DOI)000743314300009 ()34228119 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-85121035375 (Scopus ID)
Funder
AFA Insurance, 120223
Available from: 2020-11-25 Created: 2020-11-25 Last updated: 2022-01-27Bibliographically approved

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Mixter, Susanna

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