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Poster D143

No Evidence for a Generalized Construct of Cognitive Effort Aversion

Poster Session D - Monday, April 15, 2024, 8:00 – 10:00 am EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Sean Devine1 (, Mario Bogdanov2, Ziqi Fu1, Madeleine Sharp3, Ross Otto1; 1Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada, 2McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA, 3Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Montreal Neurological Institute, Montreal, Canada

People tend to avoid engaging in cognitively demanding tasks unless the benefits outweigh the costs of effortful action. Yet, while evidence from more than a decade of work in cognitive neuroscience seems to suggest that effort is aversive and that the decision to exert effortful control follows a trade-off, the constituent elements of this trade-off are far from perfectly understood. For instance, it remains unclear if the supposedly unitary nature of cognitive effort costs generalizes broadly across mental tasks: Are people equally averse to cognitive effort exertion across task domains? Here, we examine this question using a large-scale repeated-measures design. Participants (N = 240) each completed four different well-established experimental tasks designed to quantify their aversion to exerting cognitive effort: the Demand-Selection Task, an Effort-Discounting Task, an effort foraging task, and an incentivized Simon task where the opportunity costs of time was manipulated. Using a multilevel and multivariate Bayesian computational model, we found that while participants avoided effortful action within each task (replicating past work), there was no systematic relationship between participants’ performance or effort-preferences across tasks. In other words, participants who exhibit strong effort aversion in one task did not exhibit strong effort aversion in other tasks. Taken together, our results call into question the notion of a generalized, trait-like construct of cognitive effort aversion. Moreover, our results indicate that assessing effort processing within a single paradigm might not be sufficient to generate conclusions about the general motivational status of an individual.

Topic Area: THINKING: Decision making


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