Emotion and effort

July 12th Room 3
Henk van Steenbergen (Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition) & Guido Gendolla (University of Geneva, FPSE, Section of Psychology)

This symposium showcases recent work from five different research groups on the relationship between emotion and effort. The speakers have different backgrounds ranging from motivation science and social psychology to clinical and cognitive neuroscience. In the first talk, Gendolla shows how emotions influence cardiac effort. He reports on new studies that reveal important boundary conditions of these effects. Custers then presents the effect of implementation intentions on the affective transfer from goals to cues. This work shows that the positive affect evoked by a stimulus promotes the recruitment of effort upon cue perception, strengthening implementation-intention effects. In the third talk, van Steenbergen introduces a new framework that explains how positive affect can be both beneficial and detrimental to cognitive effort. Findings provide initial support for a context-specific effect of mood on behavioral indices of effort. Grahek goes a level deeper, investigating the computational mechanisms underlying the influence of emotion on effort. The new computation model developed can replicate key behavioral findings and accounts for the diminished effort typically observed in major depression and other mood disorders. In the final talk, Apps provides evidence for pro-social apathy. People are shown to be less willing to choose to exert higher levels of effort when someone else will benefit. Neuroimaging data reveal the role of distinct frontal brain regions that underlie this effect. Altogether this symposium brings together research from different disciplines and provides a state-of-the-art overview of the influence of emotion on effort measured at the behavioral, physiological, neural and social level.


Guido H.E. Gendolla & David Framorando

Research on the Implicit-Affect-Primes-Effort model (Gendolla, 2012) has revealed replicated evidence for implicitly processed affective stimuli’s systematic impact on effort-related cardiovascular responses (especially cardiac pre-ejection period) in cognitive tasks. In easy tasks, priming sadness or fear results in stronger responses than priming happiness or anger. In difficult tasks, these affect prime impacts are inversed. Recent research focused on the boundary conditions of these effort automaticity effects. One set of studies tested the moderating effects of prime visibility and prime warning. As expected, affect primes only influenced effort-related cardiac responses when they were implicitly processed. When the primes were clearly visible or when participants were warned about their effect, they lost their impact. Other research focused on the role of the general task context. Again, affect primes systematically influenced effort, but only when they were processed in an achievement context that called for effort and in which implicit affect could inform about task demand. But when the affect primes appeared in a “just watch” context, they had no impact on cardiovascular responses. Taken together, these findings identify important boundary conditions of implicit affect’s impact on cognitive effort. Accordingly, affect primes influence effort-related cardiovascular responses only in an achievement context and when people are unaware of the primes’ content and effects.

Prosocial apathy: When helping others is just too much effort 

Matthew Apps

Prosocial acts — those that are costly to ourselves but benefit others — are a central component of human coexistence. While the influence of financial and moral costs on prosocial behaviours are relatively well understood, everyday prosocial acts do not typically come at such costs. Instead, they require the motivation to exert effort. Using computational modeling of a novel effort-based decision-making task we are able to probe people’s willingness to choose to exert effort - and the subsequent force exerted into actions - that benefit ourselves or another person (Lockwood et al., 2017, Nat. Human Behaviour). I will present research showing that people are prosocially apathetic. People are less willing to choose to choose to exert higher levels of effort when someone else will benefit. Moreover, even when people do choose to perform effortful prosocial acts, they exhibit superficiality, exerting less force into the actions that benefit others than those that benefit themselves. Using fMRI I show that this may arise because distinct regions of the frontal cortex are engaged when motivating self-benefitting or prosocial actions. Moreover, I show that the willingness to put in effort for others varies with levels of empathy, highlighting how emotions may drive our willingness to put in effort and be prosocial.

Implementation intentions promote affective transfer from goals to cues 

Ruud Custers & Thomas Webb

Implementation intentions facilitate goal attainment by linking goal-directed responses to cues in the environment. Although this effect is generally explained in terms of a cognitive mechanism by which the cue automatically activates the goal-directed response, the current line of studies investigates possible affective mechanisms that contribute to this effect. In three experiments, the implicit evaluation of cues linked to a goal (earning a chocolate bar) was measured using the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP). It was demonstrated that cues that were instrumental in attaining the goal were more positively evaluated than control cues. Moreover, the evaluation of the cue was positively correlated with that of the associated goal. Alternative explanations within the paradigm, such as fluency effects due to cue exposure are ruled out. Together, the results suggest that during the formation of implementation intentions, goal valence is transferred to the cue. Based on earlier work demonstrating that positive affective cues during goal activation motivate goal pursuit, it is speculated that the positive affect evoked by the stimulus may promote the recruitment of effort upon cue perception, adding to the strength of implementation intention effects.

The Role Affect in Cognitive Control: A Computational Approach and its Relevance for Depression 

Ivan Grahek, Sebastian Musslick & Amitai Shenhav

Previous work has shown that performance on cognitive control tasks is influenced by momentary affect and by motivational state. Accordingly, emotion dysregulation and/or motivational impairments – as they occur in major depression and other mood disorders – can result in alterations in cognitive performance and/or in diminished cognitive effort investment more generally. I will present recent work that seeks to provide a computational account for cognitive control allocation in healthy and depressed individuals, based on the Expected Value of Control theory. The theory proposes that the allocation of control can be described as a decision-making processes in which the benefits of exerting control are weighted against its costs. We simulate an agent that employs this cost-benefit analysis to dynamically adjust control allocation over the course of a cognitive control task. We use these simulations to replicate key behavioral findings in the cognitive control literature (e.g., conflict adaptation, switch costs, cognitive effort discounting) and to demonstrate potential mechanisms by which these effects would be altered by experimental manipulations of integral or incidental affect. We further identify potential mechanisms underlying impairments in cognitive effort allocation observed in depression and related disorders. I will discuss these findings in a broader framework that connects motivational and cognitive impairments in depression. Within this framework, depression-related cognitive deficits are caused by the reduced value of exerting control, instead of an inability to do so.

The Power and Pitfalls of Positive Affect: Context-Dependent Effects of Mood on Effort 

Henk van Steenbergen

Feeling good is often considered to be beneficial for cognitive functioning. However, research on the effects of hedonic states on goal-directed behavior has provided contradictory findings, suggesting that positive affect can both enhance and impair cognitive control. In this talk I introduce a new framework to resolve this paradox. Integrating the Expected Value of Control theory with core insights from motivation science, this framework predicts that positive mood will increase the motivation to exert effort in cognitive tasks when the potential benefit of control is made salient, whereas positive mood will decrease effort when task difficulty is made salient. I present evidence from two recent studies that have tested this prediction using a two-by-two design manipulating i) participants’ hedonic tone and ii) the perceived benefit versus difficulty of doing an effortful task. In line with predictions, results show that the willingness to engage in the effortful task is influenced by mood and task context, such that positive mood is only associated with more effort in contexts in which the perceived benefits of effort are salient. These findings provide the first evidence that the effect of mood on cognitive effort is context-dependent, highlighting the flexible nature of the relationship between affect and cognitive control.