Preferring Pain to High Cognitive Effort

“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.”

—Todd A Vogel, et al. “Forced choices reveal a trade-off between cognitive effort and physical pain.” eLife: Neurosciences. November 17, 2020. doi: 10.7554/eLife.59410

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than outlined in this abstract.

Gendered Details

I was struck by two things this morning. We are staying in a hotel room, and every morning, I have to unlatch, then unbolt the door to get out. I don’t think I’ve ever latched and bolted a hotel door overnight. It simply doesn’t occur to me.

Shortly after, I was downstairs getting coffee when the lady at the front desk told her colleague that it was now OK to keep the door to the back room open because “she was there.”

I cannot imagine ever saying this to another person. And, it occurs to me that not having to worry about these things reduces a lot of cognitive overhead, thinking about mitigating risks that simply aren’t there, or are greatly reduced, for me.

All of which is obvious in 2020 after all the conversations about privilege. But, even so, noticing these details keeps surprising me.