Can infrared facial thermography disclose mental workload in indoor thermal environments?


Mental workload represents the mental resources an individual devotes to a task. In a building environment, understanding how ambient thermal conditions affect occupants' mental workload offers an opportunity to achieve optimal thermal settings for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. However, directly measuring mental workload on a large and continuous scale requires occupants to perform subjective tests or wear electroencephalogram (EEG) or similar devices, which is impractical. This paper assesses the feasibility of using infrared facial thermography captured by a low-cost thermal camera to disclose mental workload. An experiment was conducted to measure the facial skin temperature while subjects performed cognitive tasks in three different thermal environments, representing occupants' thermal sensation of slightly cool, neutral, and slightly warm. Mental workload was measured using an EEG headset to eliminate subjective bias. The correlations between facial temperature and mental workload vary with different individuals and thermal conditions. Relatively strong correlations are found in the neutral environment and in the regions of ears, mouth, and neck. The results also suggest that future work should collect data under extended experiment duration. This is because it was observed that the response of facial skin temperature to mental workload varies with task type; thus, increasing the repetitiveness for each type of task or using more challenging tasks in the experiment could potentially lead to more insights on this relationship.

In 1st ACM International Workshop on Urban Building Energy Sensing, Controls, Big Data Analysis, and Visualization