The Effect of Perceived Effort and Perceived Control on Reward Valuation

Harmon-Jones, E. (UNSW Sydney), Willoughby, C. (UNSW Sydney), Clarke, D., (UNSW Sydney), Paul, K. (Ghent University), Harmon-Jones, C., (UNSW Sydney)

Rewards of higher value cause individuals to exert more effort to obtain them, but effort also influences the valuation of rewards. Past psychological theory and research, however, suggests two opposing relationships between effort and reward valuation. Cognitive dissonance theory and research suggests that increased effort is associated with increased reward valuation, whereas theory and research on effort discounting suggests that increased effort is associated with decreased reward valuation. The present research was designed to test these two opposing perspectives, by examining a potential moderator of the relationship between effort and reward valuation – the belief that the effort was necessary to obtain the reward. Study 1 found that increased perceptions of effort following an effortful task were associated with larger neural responses to rewards (as assessed by the event-related potential referred to as the reward positivity). Study 2 found that this positive relationship between perceived effort and neural responses to rewards after an effortful task occurred when individuals believed that their effort led to the reward but not when they believed that their effort did not lead to the reward. Discussion considers the implications of these results.


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Attitudes and Motivation