Four students and a faculty member affiliated with the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the Cullen College of Engineering had their research papers spotlighted at the 2021 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference (EMBC).
Rose Faghih, Ph.D., formerly an Assistant Professor at UH, is an author on the papers and oversaw the work of the students. Faghih is now Adjunct Faculty at UH, and an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering. Three UH graduate students – Saman Khazaei, Md. Rafiul Amin and Anan Yaghmour – and REU undergraduate student Maryam Tahir are other authors of these papers.
“The cognitive functioning of humans has received vast attention from psychologists, neuroscientists and researchers for decades. Specifically, the unobserved overall performance of individuals throughout a cognitive task is a crucial factor to be considered. Cognitive performance is affected by several latent factors such as an individual’s emotional condition,” said Khazaei.
In a pair of papers from the University of Houston's Computational Medicine Lab (CML), the researchers decoded the unobserved emotional arousal and cognitive performance states from physiological and behavioral data, respectively. Eventually, they identify the mathematical relationship between arousal and performance. The papers are “Decoding a Neurofeedback-Modulated Cognitive Arousal State to Investigate Performance Regulation by the Yerkes-Dodson Law” and “A State-space Investigation of Impact of Music on Cognitive Performance During a Working Memory Experiment.”
“The investigations were done on six participants that performed a working memory task called the n-back task while listening to different types of background music. In the n-back task, participants need to remember n different stimuli utilizing working memory. Working memory is a system in the brain that retains sensory perceptions for processing and understanding a cognitive task,” said Amin.
In another study, “Decoding a Music-Modulated Cognitive Arousal State using Electrodermal Activity and Functional Near-infrared Spectroscopy Measurements,” the authors particularly focus on the arousal state of a participant by considering the oxygen concentration in the blood flow acquired from the functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) signal and tiny sweat variations detected in the electrodermal activity signal of a participant, during the cognitive experiment; fNIRS is a neuroimaging approach that utilizes near-infrared light to capture the changes in oxygenated/deoxygenated hemoglobin levels in the outer cortex of the brain.
According to Khazaei, results validate that the designed decoders based on the proposed observation models are able to detect the music effects on both arousal and performance.
Faghih said, “CML plans to develop methods for improving performance by regulating a person’s arousal level using non-invasive actuators such as music.”
Decoding the arousal and cognitive performance states and identifying their link based on physiological and behavioral signals, despite its complexity, have numerous applications. Part of this complexity arises as a result of the human brain itself. The applications include developing better human-computer interfaces, the management of neuropsychiatric disorders, and designing smart educational systems by taking arousal and performance feedback. Specifically, during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been observed how the educational system is capable of adapting itself based on the understanding of the arousal and performance state of the students, which underlines the potential capacity for additional improvements.