A recent study investigated mental fatigue and its effects on attention. Ten participants performed continuous tasks to induce mental fatigue. Before and after which an attention task was conducted as pre-test and post-test. Performance data, subjective levels of mental fatigue, and EEG were recorded. Lower performance efficiency and increased subjective levels of fatigue suggested that the task successfully induced mental fatigue. These results indicated that mental fatigue impaired resource allocation, and ware indicative of decay of the inhibition process and suggested that mental fatigue results also result in reduced attention.
An older study, from 2005, by the University of Groningen, goes even further on referring that mental fatigue results in a reduction in goal-directed attention, leaving subjects performing in a more stimulus-driven fashion.
This conclusion can have a very serious impact on task completion and goal achievement. Something that has a very negative impact on motivation and can strongly contribute to the increase in stress levels. Something that is known to have a direct impact on mental fatigue. This creates a vicious cycle that can be hard to break before it becomes rooted in.
In 2012, the Radboud University Nijmegen published a study on how Mental Fatigue Affects Visual Selective Attention. This study reinforces the known fact that “Mentally fatigued people often report having a hard time keeping their attention focussed and being easily distracted” and takes it further by examining the relationship between mental fatigue, as induced by time on task, and attention-related changes in event-related potentials. They concluded that “that attention was affected by mental fatigue, in the form of a decrease in the ability to suppress irrelevant information. In behavioral results, this was reflected by a tendency of participants to increasingly base their response decision on irrelevant information, resulting in decreased response accuracies.”
On an office job, most of the attention inevitably passes by focussing on the computer screen completing some often-monotonous tasks. A study by Zizheng Guo et al on “The Impairing Effect of Mental Fatigue on Visual Sustained Attention under Monotonous Multi-Object Visual Attention Task in Long Durations: An Event-Related Potential Based Study” in 2016 suggests that mental fatigue can modulate the higher-level cognitive processes, in terms of less attentional resources allocated to the random stimuli, which leads to decreased speed in information evaluating and decision making against the stimuli
In a World of constant information overload, the capacity to filter relevant from irrelevant information is paramount for survival. The constant emailing, social media attention calls, texting, and so on take our brain to new levels of multi-tasking and attention allocation that can lead in a very fast way to Mental Fatigue.
If it is possible to reduce mental fatigue or the stressors that provoke it, it is possible to keep high attention levels on the task at hand reducing distractors and help manage the untimely stimuli that divert precious mental resources from the peak performance of the workforce and deprives them from the feeling of accomplishment of achieving goals and outperform themselves.
All the research can also be used to re-engineer the process and detect Mental Fatigue from these clear symptoms. Some computer systems that use state of the art AI can detect even the faintest signs of mental fatigue and can recommend a course of action to counteract it promoting optimum performance and high spirits throughout the team.