Exploring the Cognitive Load of Expert and Novice Map Users Using EEG and Eye Tracking

Keskin M., Ooms K., Doğru A. Ö., De Maeyer P.

ISPRS INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GEO-INFORMATION, vol.9, no.7, 2020 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 9 Issue: 7
  • Publication Date: 2020
  • Doi Number: 10.3390/ijgi9070429
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, Agricultural & Environmental Science Database, CAB Abstracts, INSPEC, Veterinary Science Database, Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Keywords: eye tracking, EEG, spatial memory, cognitive load, cognitive cartography, cartographic user experiment design, MEMORY LOAD, UPPER ALPHA, THETA, SYNCHRONIZATION, DESYNCHRONIZATION, OSCILLATIONS, PERFORMANCE, ATTENTION, RESPONSES, TASK
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


The main objective of this research is to explore the cognitive processes of expert and novice map users during the retrieval of map-related information, within varying difficulty levels (i.e., easy, moderate, hard), by using eye tracking and electroencephalogram (EEG). In this context, we present a spatial memory experiment consisting of a large number of stimuli to study the effect of task difficulty on map users' behavior through cognitive load measurements. Next to the reaction time and success rate, we used fixation and saccade related eye tracking metrics (i.e., average fixation duration, the number of fixations per second, saccade amplitude and saccade velocity), and EEG power spectrum (i.e., event-related changes in alpha and theta frequency bands) to identify the cognitive load. While fixation metrics indicated no statistically significant difference between experts and novices, saccade metrics proved the otherwise. EEG power spectral density analysis, on the other side, suggested an increase in theta (i.e., event-related synchronization) and a decrease in alpha (except moderate tasks) (i.e., event-related desynchronization) at all difficulty levels of the task for both experts and novices, which is an indicator of cognitive load. Although no significant difference emerged between two groups, we found a significant difference in their overall performances when the participants were classified as good and relatively bad learners. Triangulating EEG results with the recorded eye tracking data and the qualitative analysis of focus maps indeed provided a detailed insight on the differences of the individuals' cognitive processes during this spatial memory task.