Cognitive load changes during music listening and its implication in earcon design in public environments: An fNIRS study

Eunju Jeong, Hokyoung Ryu, Geonsang Jo, Jaehyeok Kim

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4 Scopus citations


A key for earcon design in public environments is to incorporate an individual’s perceived level of cognitive load for better communication. This study aimed to examine the cognitive load changes required to perform a melodic contour identification task (CIT). While healthy college students (N = 16) were presented with five CITs, behavioral (reaction time and accuracy) and cerebral hemodynamic responses were measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Our behavioral findings showed a gradual increase in cognitive load from CIT1 to CIT3 followed by an abrupt increase between CIT4 (i.e., listening to two concurrent melodic contours in an alternating manner and identifying the direction of the target contour, p < 0.001) and CIT5 (i.e., listening to two concurrent melodic contours in a divided manner and identifying the directions of both contours, p < 0.001). Cerebral hemodynamic responses showed a congruent trend with behavioral findings. Specific to the frontopolar area (Brodmann’s area 10), oxygenated hemoglobin increased significantly between CIT4 and CIT5 (p < 0.05) while the level of deoxygenated hemoglobin decreased. Altogether, the findings indicate that the cognitive threshold for young adults (CIT5) and appropriate tuning of the relationship between timbre and pitch contour can lower the perceived cognitive load and, thus, can be an effective design strategy for earcon in a public environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2075
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by a National Research Foundation of Korea grant funded by the Korean government (NRF-2018R1C1B5044305).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Auditory attention
  • Cognitive load
  • Contour identification
  • Earcon design
  • Melody perception
  • Near-infrared spectroscopy


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