Our ability to perform tasks is constrained by our limited mental resources, which mandates that people should minimize use of cognitively ???effortful??? processing when possible. Recent theories posit that decisions to expend effort are governed by a cost-benefit tradeoff, whereby the potential benefits of effort can offset its perceived costs. I will present a series of recent, computationally-informed experiments that yield important insights into understanding when and why we allocate???or withhold???cognitive effort, both from an individual differences perspective, and at the level of the task by examining the effect of changes in costs and benefits. We find that individual differences in cognitive capacity???and relatedly, intrinsic motivation???govern trial-to-trial adjustments to cognitive effort expenditure in accordance with shifts in (subjective or objective) costs and benefits (i.e., reward incentives). Further, we find that 1) task-evoked pupillary responses and 2) indices of reward-related neural processing (measured by EEG) can elucidate internal computations of these effort allocation decisions. Finally, I will present new experimental data illustrating how reward-guided effort allocation also depends on the marginal utility of increasing effort in a particular context???that is, the additional task performance benefits gained from increasing effort allocation. Taken together, these lines of work illustrate how our decisions to deploy effortful cognitive processing can be understood in a decision-theoretic framework.

Ross Otto
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
McGill College

Ross Otto – Cognitive Effort and Decision-making: Integrating Computational, Behavioral, And Psychophysiological Approaches