Cognitive tasks elicit mental fatigue and impair subsequent physical task endurance: effects of task duration and type

Neil Dallaway, Sam Lucas, Chris Ring

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Although mentally fatiguing cognitive tasks can impair subsequent physical endurance, the importance of cognitive task duration and the role of response inhibition remain unclear. This study compared the effects of a serial incongruent Stroop color-classification task (i.e., with response inhibition) and N-back memory updating task (i.e., without response inhibition) on mental fatigue and subsequent rhythmic handgrip exercise. Participants (N = 90) were randomly assigned to one of three cognitive task groups (Stroop, 2-back, control) and completed four 10-min blocks of one cognitive task followed by a 5-min physical endurance task (self-paced rhythmic handgrip exercise). Heart rate, heart rate variability, electromyographic forearm activity, and force were recorded throughout along with self-reported measures of fatigue, exertion, and motivation. From the start, the Stroop and 2-back tasks elicited higher heart rate and lower heart rate variability as well as greater fatigue, effort, and interest/enjoyment than the control task. From the second block onwards, the Stroop and 2-back groups produced less force than the control group. There were no group differences in forearm muscle activity. In sum, mental fatigue was induced after performing a cognitive task for 10 mins, whereas muscular endurance was impaired after performing a cognitive task for 20 mins. That these effects were observed for both types of cognitive task indicates that response inhibition is not a necessary condition. The cognitive task duration required to induce mental fatigue and impair rhythmic handgrip endurance performance lay between the durations reported previously for isometric (a few minutes) and whole-body (half an hour) endurance exercise.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14126
Number of pages13
Early online date21 Jun 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Psychophysiology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Psychophysiological Research.


  • effort
  • electromyography
  • heart rate variability
  • mental fatigue
  • muscular fatigue
  • rate of perceived exertion


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