Expectations of reward and efficacy guide cognitive control allocation

R. Frömer*, Hause Lin*, Carolyn K. Dean Wolf, Michael Inzlicht, Amitai Shenhav

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The amount of mental effort we invest in a task is influenced by the reward we can expect if we perform that task well. However, some of the rewards that have the greatest potential for driving these efforts are partly determined by factors beyond one’s control. In such cases, effort has more limited efficacy for obtaining rewards. According to the Expected Value of Control theory, people integrate information about the expected reward and efficacy of task performance to determine the expected value of control, and then adjust their control allocation (i.e., mental effort) accordingly. Here we test this theory’s key behavioral and neural predictions. We show that participants invest more cognitive control when this control is more rewarding and more efficacious, and that these incentive components separately modulate EEG signatures of incentive evaluation and proactive control allocation. Our findings support the prediction that people combine expectations of reward and efficacy to determine how much effort to invest.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1030
Number of pages11
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2021


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