In the nascent field of neuroergonomics, mental workload assessment is one of the most important issues and has an apparent significance in real-world applications. Although prior research has achieved efficient single-task classification, scatted studies on cross-task mental workload assessment usually result in unsatisfactory performance. Here, we introduce a data-driven analysis framework to overcome the challenges regarding task-independent workload assessment using a fusion of EEG spectral characteristics and unveil the common neural mechanisms underlying mental workload. Specifically, multi-frequency power spectrum and functional connectivity (FC) were estimated for two workload levels in two working-memory tasks performed by 40 healthy participants, subsequently being fed into a machine learning approach to obtain the importance of each feature vector and evaluate classification performance in a cross-task fashion. Our framework achieved a classification accuracy of 0.94 for task-independent mental workload discrimination. Further investigation of the designated features in terms of their spectral and localization properties revealed task-independent common patterns in the neural mechanisms governing workload. In particular, increased workload was associated with elevated frontal delta and theta power but reduced parietal alpha power, whereas FC exhibited complex frequency- and region-dependent alterations. By implication, the employment of the EEG feature fusion emphasizes their utility in serving as promising indicators for different workload conditions applications.
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