Interfering effects of multitasking on muscle activity in the upper extremity
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Multitasking, where workers are required to perform multiple physical tasks with various levels of cognitive load is common in today's workplace. Simultaneous physical and mental demands are thought to cause task interference and likely increase muscle activity. To test the interfering effects of multitasking, 16 healthy participants performed hand and shoulder exertions with combinations of four grip conditions (no grip, 30% grip with low precision, 30% grip with high precision, and maximal grip) and three shoulder conditions at 90 degrees abduction (maintaining posture, 40% force-controlled moment, 40% posture-controlled moment), with and without the Stroop test while surface EMG was recorded from eight upper extremity muscles. Both 40% MVC shoulder moments increased extrinsic forearm muscle activity by 2-4% MVE (p<0.01). Grip exertion at 30% MVC reduced anterior and middle deltoid activity by 2% MVE (p<0.01). Exerting a constant force against the transducer (force-controlled) required 3-4% MVE greater middle and posterior deltoid activity (p<0.001) compared to supporting an equivalent inertial load at the same shoulder angle (posture-controlled). Performing the mental task (Stroop test) concurrently with either 40% MVC shoulder moments significantly increased trapezius activity by nearly 2% MVE (p<0.05). Interestingly, the Stroop test also reduced all deltoid activity by 1% MVE (p<0.05). The addition of both the Stroop test and force-control shoulder exertion independently reduced maximal grip force by 7% and 10% MVC, respectively. These results suggest that more complex workplace tasks may act to increase muscle load or interfere with task performance. These small but significant findings may play a role in the development of long-term musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace.
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