1. Neuroscience
Download icon

Forced choices reveal a trade-off between cognitive effort and physical pain

  1. Todd A Vogel  Is a corresponding author
  2. Zachary M Savelson
  3. A Ross Otto
  4. Mathieu Roy  Is a corresponding author
  1. McGill University, Canada
  2. Carleton University, Canada
Research Article
  • Cited 1
  • Views 5,767
  • Annotations
Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e59410 doi: 10.7554/eLife.59410

Abstract

Cognitive effort is described as aversive, and people will generally avoid it when possible. This aversion to effort is believed to arise from a cost–benefit analysis of the actions available. The comparison of cognitive effort against other primary aversive experiences, however, remains relatively unexplored. Here, we offered participants choices between performing a cognitively demanding task or experiencing thermal pain. We found that cognitive effort can be traded off for physical pain and that people generally avoid exerting high levels of cognitive effort. We also used computational modelling to examine the aversive subjective value of effort and its effects on response behaviours. Applying this model to decision times revealed asymmetric effects of effort and pain, suggesting that cognitive effort may not share the same basic influences on avoidance behaviour as more primary aversive stimuli such as physical pain.

Data availability

All data analyzed for this study can be found on OSF (https://osf.io/n4cht/).

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Todd A Vogel

    Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
    For correspondence
    todd.vogel@mail.mcgill.ca
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0895-3845
  2. Zachary M Savelson

    Institute of Cognitive Science, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. A Ross Otto

    Department of Psychology, McGill University, Quebec, Canada
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-9997-1901
  4. Mathieu Roy

    Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
    For correspondence
    mathieu.roy3@mcgill.ca
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

Funding

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (RGPIN-2017-03918)

  • A Ross Otto

Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (2018-NC-204806)

  • A Ross Otto

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (RGPIN-2016-06682)

  • Mathieu Roy

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Human subjects: Informed written consent was obtained from all participants and the study was approved by the McGill University Research Ethics Board (REB File # 247-1117).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Jonathan Roiser, University College London, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: May 28, 2020
  2. Accepted: November 16, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: November 17, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: December 3, 2020 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2020, Vogel et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

Metrics

  • 5,767
    Page views
  • 283
    Downloads
  • 1
    Citations

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Download citations (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Further reading

    1. Neuroscience
    Caroline S Lee et al.
    Research Article

    Learning about temporal structure is adaptive because it enables the generation of expectations. We examined how the brain uses experience in structured environments to anticipate upcoming events. During fMRI, individuals watched a 90-second movie clip six times. Using a Hidden Markov Model applied to searchlights across the whole brain, we identified temporal shifts between activity patterns evoked by the first vs. repeated viewings of the movie clip. In many regions throughout the cortex, neural activity patterns for repeated viewings shifted to precede those of initial viewing by up to 15 seconds. This anticipation varied hierarchically in a posterior (less anticipation) to anterior (more anticipation) fashion. We also identified specific regions in which the timing of the brain's event boundaries were related to those of human-labeled event boundaries, with the timing of this relationship shifting on repeated viewings. With repeated viewing, the brain's event boundaries came to precede human-annotated boundaries by 1-4 seconds on average. Together, these results demonstrate a hierarchy of anticipatory signals in the human brain and link them to subjective experiences of events.

    1. Neuroscience
    Hamid Karimi-Rouzbahani et al.
    Research Article Updated

    There are many monitoring environments, such as railway control, in which lapses of attention can have tragic consequences. Problematically, sustained monitoring for rare targets is difficult, with more misses and longer reaction times over time. What changes in the brain underpin these ‘vigilance decrements’? We designed a multiple-object monitoring (MOM) paradigm to examine how the neural representation of information varied with target frequency and time performing the task. Behavioural performance decreased over time for the rare target (monitoring) condition, but not for a frequent target (active) condition. This was mirrored in neural decoding using magnetoencephalography: coding of critical information declined more during monitoring versus active conditions along the experiment. We developed new analyses that can predict behavioural errors from the neural data more than a second before they occurred. This facilitates pre-empting behavioural errors due to lapses in attention and provides new insight into the neural correlates of vigilance decrements.