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The role of performance efficacy and penalty in cognitive effort allocation


People have the remarkable ability to flexibly adjust how much mental effort they invest in a task. This ability, called cognitive control, allows us to adjust how we process information and allows us to successfully reach our goals. Previous research has shown that people allocate more cognitive control in situations in which they expect that this will translate into better outcomes (either as gaining reward or avoiding punishment). While the value of expected outcomes determines how much control is worth, another crucial component of motivation determines whether the effort is worthwhile. Namely, how much control people allocate also depends on performance efficacy – the probability that people will reach the desired outcome given their performance. Specifically, people allocate more cognitive control when they expect that outcomes will depend on their performance, rather than on random chance. In this study we will test how expected negative outcomes interact with performance efficacy to determine control allocation. We will run a web-based behavioral experiment in which people will have the opportunity to earn rewards and avoid penalties while performing a cognitively demanding task that requires cognitive control. Before each run of the task, they will receive information telling them whether (a) they are in a high penalty or low penalty condition and whether (b) outcomes (monetary rewards or losses) will be based on their performance (high performance efficacy) or determined by random chance (low performance efficacy). This design will enable us to investigate the effects of expected performance efficacy and expected penalty on cognitive control allocation. Specifically, we will test how the impact of negative outcomes on cognitive control differs depending on whether the penalties depend on task performance or random chance.

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Baydar, Selin, "The role of performance efficacy and penalty in cognitive effort allocation" (2021). Summer Research Symposium. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.



  • Summer Research Symposium

    Each year, Brown University showcases the research of its undergraduates at the Summer Research Symposium. More than half of the student-researchers are UTRA recipients, while others receive funding from a variety of Brown-administered and national programs and fellowships and go …