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Dr. Ranjana Mehta and Oshin Tyagi hold plaques and stand between two men in front of a colorful balloon arch and a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society banner.
Dr. Ranjana Mehta and Oshin Tyagi, center two, receive the Human Factors Prize during the 2022 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting in Atlanta. | Image: Courtesy of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
A research duo in the Wm Michael Barnes ’64 Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering is discovering how men and women adapt differently in fatiguing work situations by looking at their brains.
Doctoral student Oshin Tyagi and Texas A&M University associate professor Dr. Ranjana Mehta received the Human Factors Prize during the 2022 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) Annual Meeting in October. The award recognized their research on equity and inclusivity titled “Uncovering Neuromuscular Fatigue Difference in Older Women and Men: Shedding Light on Causal Brain Dynamics.”
“Our research highlights the importance of studying work capabilities of vulnerable demographics and the usefulness of using a neuroergonomics approach to do so,” Tyagi said. “I am thrilled that this work received recognition. I hope findings here generate interest in understanding the impact of fatiguing work on different demographic groups in cognitively and physically demanding environments.”
Tyagi and Mehta aimed to uncover sex-based differences in neuromotor strategies adopted by older adults during fatiguing tasks. Due to a historical bias in human subject studies to only include male participants to represent an entire population, or a failure to include sex in the statistical model, numerous workplace design parameters do not accommodate female work capacities, especially when workers conduct fatiguing tasks.
“This is concerning given that the pre-pandemic labor participation rates are higher for women than for men,” Mehta said, citing a 2021 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Using data from a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the duo worked with 59 men and women, ages 65 years and older, to study fatiguing and motor performance outcomes as participants completed a repetitive handgrip fatiguing task. The researchers also collected 24/7 physical activity data for days before the experiment to ensure results did not skew from routine physical activity or sleep behaviors.
Mehta said this is where most studies in the past have stopped in measuring how fatigue impacts neuromuscular health. However, Tyagi and Mehta went further. They imaged the participants’ brains using functional near-infrared spectroscopy to assess activation and connectivity patterns between frontal and motor brain regions during the fatiguing task.
Using this integrated brain-behavior approach led to a new observation. Traditional ergonomic evaluation metrics, such as endurance times or strength loss, were comparable between older men and women. However, there were distinct sex-specific neuromotor strategies, including causal information flow between frontal and motor regions, that signaled reliance on different brain networks in older men versus women.
These metrics can help researchers identify different tactics men and women choose to adopt when fatigued and facilitate the development of effective and targeted ergogenic strategies that accommodate varying capacities and limitations of diverse worker demographics.
“This information is the key to developing targeted strategies to ensure that workplace tasks and processes remain equitable for different groups of workers,” Tyagi said. “I hope to build a line of research that extends this work with my independent research program.”
Along with research impact, Mehta said this work is vital to continue elevating awareness of diversity and equity challenges through inclusive research practices among research labs, professional societies and institutions.
“I believe that a systematic shift to inclusivity and diversity will be accelerated when the equity/inclusion viewpoint is integrated into our science,” Mehta said. “Thus, I am very proud of HFES for elevating equity and inclusivity as a scientific topic.”

Human Factors Prize

The Human Factors Prize, established in 2010, recognizes excellence in human factors and ergonomics research through an annual competition in which authors are invited to submit papers on a specific topic for that year. The topic for the 2022 competition was “Equity and Inclusivity.” The prize carries a cash award of $5,000 and consideration of publication of the winning paper in the society's flagship journal, Human Factors.