Towards a near infrared spectroscopy-based estimation of operator attentional state


Given the critical risks to public health and safety that can involve lapses in attention (e.g., through implication in workplace accidents), researchers have sought to develop cognitive-state tracking technologies, capable of alerting individuals engaged in cognitively demanding tasks of potentially dangerous decrements in their levels of attention. The purpose of the present study was to address this issue through an investigation of the reliability of optical measures of cortical correlates of attention in conjunction with machine learning techniques to distinguish between states of full attention and states characterized by reduced attention capacity during a sustained attention task. Seven subjects engaged in a 30 minutes duration sustained attention reaction time task with near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) monitoring over the prefrontal and the right parietal areas. NIRS signals from the first 10 minutes of the task were considered as characterizing the ‘full attention’ class, while the NIRS signals from the last 10 minutes of the task were considered as characterizing the ‘attention decrement’ class. A two-class support vector machine algorithm was exploited to distinguish between the two levels of attention using appropriate NIRS-derived signal features. Attention decrement occurred during the task as revealed by the significant increase in reaction time in the last 10 compared to the first 10 minutes of the task (p<.05). The results demonstrate relatively good classification accuracy, ranging from 65 to 90%. The highest classification accuracy results were obtained when exploiting the oxyhemoglobin signals (i.e., from 77 to 89%, depending on the cortical area considered) rather than the deoxyhemoglobin signals (i.e., from 65 to 66%). Moreover, the classification accuracy increased to 90% when using signals from the right parietal area rather than from the prefrontal cortex. The results support the feasibility of developing cognitive tracking technologies using NIRS and machine learning techniques. © 2014 Derosière et al.