Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy to evaluate cognitive change when using healthcare simulation tools
  1. Natasha Taylor,
  2. Martyn Wyres,
  3. Martin Bollard,
  4. Rosie Kneafsey
  1. Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Natasha Taylor, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry CV1 5FB, UK; natasha.taylor{at}


Background The use of brain imaging techniques in healthcare simulation is relatively rare. However, the use of mobile, wireless technique, such as functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), is becoming a useful tool for assessing the unique demands of simulation learning. For this study, this imaging technique was used to evaluate cognitive load during simulation learning events.

Methods This study took place in relation to six simulation activities, paired for similarity, and evaluated comparative cognitive change between the three task pairs. The three paired tasks were: receiving a (1) face-to-face and (2) video patient handover; observing a simulated scene in (1) two dimensions and (2) 360° field of vision; and on a simulated patient (1) taking a pulse and (2) taking a pulse and respiratory rate simultaneously. The total number of participants was n=12.

Results In this study, fNIRS was sensitive to variations in task difficulty in common simulation tools and scenarios, showing an increase in oxygenated haemoglobin concentration and a decrease in deoxygenated haemoglobin concentration, as tasks increased in cognitive load.

Conclusion Overall, findings confirmed the usefulness of neurohaemoglobin concentration markers as an evaluation tool of cognitive change in healthcare simulation. Study findings suggested that cognitive load increases in more complex cognitive tasks in simulation learning events. Task performance that increased in complexity therefore affected cognitive markers, with increase in mental effort required.

  • simulation
  • fNIRS
  • cognitive load

Statistics from


  • Twitter @CovUniSim

  • Contributors NT wrote the ethical approval, study design and statistical analysis. MW, MB and RK collaborated on the writing of the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval This study was approved by Coventry University CU Ethics Application and Authorisation System (CU ETHICS; reference P78978).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request.

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.