Effort Foraging Task reveals positive correlation between individual differences in the cost of cognitive and physical effort in humans

Laura A. Bustamante, Temitope Oshinowo, Jeremy R. Lee, Elizabeth Tong, Allison R. Burton, Amitai Shenhav, Jonathan D. Cohen, Nathaniel D. Daw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effort-based decisions, in which people weigh potential future rewards against effort costs required to achieve those rewards involve both cognitive and physical effort, though the mechanistic relationship between them is not yet understood. Here, we use an individual differences approach to isolate and measure the computational processes underlying effort-based decisions and test the association between cognitive and physical domains. Patch foraging is an ecologically valid reward rate maximization problem with well-developed theoretical tools. We developed the Effort Foraging Task, which embedded cognitive or physical effort into patch foraging, to quantify the cost of both cognitive and physical effort indirectly, by their effects on foraging choices. Participants chose between harvesting a depleting patch, or traveling to a new patch that was costly in time and effort. Participants exit thresholds (reflecting the reward they expected to receive by harvesting when they chose to travel to a new patch) were sensitive to cognitive and physical effort demands, allowing us to quantify the perceived effort cost in monetary terms. The indirect sequential choice style revealed effort-seeking behavior in a minority of participants (preferring high over low effort) that has apparently been missed by many previous approaches. Individual differences in cognitive and physical effort costs were positively correlated, suggesting that these are perceived and processed in common. We used canonical correlation analysis to probe the relationship of task measures to self-reported affect and motivation, and found correlations of cognitive effort with anxiety, cognitive function, behavioral activation, and self-efficacy, but no similar correlations with physical effort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2221510120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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