Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The effort paradox - Effort is both costly and valued

Inzlicht et al. do an interesting review article on how we (as well as some other animals) associate effort with reward, sometimes pursuing objects and outcomes because of the effort they require rather than in spite of it. Effort can increase value retrospectively (as in the IKEA effect, valuing what you build more than what is ready-made), concurrently (as in Flow, enjoyment of energized focus), or prospective (as in effortful versus little effort pro-social work).

Their abstract and list of highlights:
According to prominent models in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and economics, effort (be it physical or mental) is costly: when given a choice, humans and non-human animals alike tend to avoid effort. Here, we suggest that the opposite is also true and review extensive evidence that effort can also add value. Not only can the same outcomes be more rewarding if we apply more (not less) effort, sometimes we select options precisely because they require effort. Given the increasing recognition of effort’s role in motivation, cognitive control, and value-based decision-making, considering this neglected side of effort will not only improve formal computational models, but also provide clues about how to promote sustained mental effort across time.
Prominent models in the cognitive sciences indicate that mental and physical effort is costly, and that we avoid it. Here, we suggest that this is only half of the story.
Humans and non-human animals alike tend to associate effort with reward and will sometimes select objects or activities precisely because they require effort (e.g., mountain climbing, ultra-marathons).
Effort adds value to the products of effort, but effort itself also has value.
Effort’s value can not only be accessed concurrently with or immediately following effort exertion, but also in anticipation of such expenditure, suggesting that we already have an intuitive understanding of effort’s potential positive value.
If effort is consistently rewarded, people might learn that effort is valuable and become more willing to exert it in general.

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