Mental fatigue and the control of cognitive processes: Effects on perseveration and planning

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


We tested whether behavioural manifestations of mental fatigue may be linked to compromised executive control, which refers to the ability to regulate perceptual and motor processes for goal-directed behaviour. In complex tasks, compromised executive control may become manifest as decreased flexibility and sub-optimal planning. In the study we use the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST) and the Tower of London (TOL), which respectively measure flexibility (e.g., perseverative errors) and planning. A simple memory task was used as a control measure. Fatigue was induced through working for 2 h on cognitively demanding tasks. The results showed that compared to a non-fatigued group, fatigued participants displayed more perseveration on the WCST and showed prolonged planning time on the TOL. Fatigue did not affect performance on the simple memory task. These findings indicate compromised executive control under fatigue, which may explain the typical errors and sub-optimal performance that are often found in fatigued people.

Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Psychologica
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)45-65
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 01.05.2003
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This study was supported by a grant from The Netherlands Concerted Research action “Fatigue at Work” of The Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research (NWO). Furthermore, we would like to thank Riek Somsen of the University of Amsterdam for the discussion on performance measures in the WCST and for giving us the computerized version of the WCST. We would also like to thank Michiel Kompier, Toon Taris, and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

    Research areas

  • Cognitive flexibility, Executive control, Mental fatique, Planning
  • Business psychology