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      Decision making and the avoidance of cognitive demand.

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          Abstract

          Behavioral and economic theories have long maintained that actions are chosen so as to minimize demands for exertion or work, a principle sometimes referred to as the law of less work. The data supporting this idea pertain almost entirely to demands for physical effort. However, the same minimization principle has often been assumed also to apply to cognitive demand. The authors set out to evaluate the validity of this assumption. In 6 behavioral experiments, participants chose freely between courses of action associated with different levels of demand for controlled information processing. Together, the results of these experiments revealed a bias in favor of the less demanding course of action. The bias was obtained across a range of choice settings and demand manipulations and was not wholly attributable to strategic avoidance of errors, minimization of time on task, or maximization of the rate of goal achievement. It is remarkable that the effect also did not depend on awareness of the demand manipulation. Consistent with a motivational account, avoidance of demand displayed sensitivity to task incentives and covaried with individual differences in the efficacy of executive control. The findings reported, together with convergent neuroscientific evidence, lend support to the idea that anticipated cognitive demand plays a significant role in behavioral decision making.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          J Exp Psychol Gen
          Journal of experimental psychology. General
          American Psychological Association (APA)
          1939-2222
          0022-1015
          Nov 2010
          : 139
          : 4
          Affiliations
          [1 ] Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540, USA.
          Article
          2010-19536-001 NIHMS213123
          10.1037/a0020198
          2970648
          20853993
          9a14ee1e-23c3-4863-a094-ea1cab5773c3
          History

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