The Case of the Cognitive (Opti)miser: Electrophysiological Correlates of Working Memory Maintenance Predict Demand Avoidance
People are often considered cognitive misers. When given a free choice between two tasks, people tend to choose tasks requiring less cognitive effort. Such demand avoidance (DA) is associated with cognitive control, but it is still not clear to what extent individual differences in cognitive control can account for variations in DA. We sought to elucidate the relation between cognitive control and cognitive effort preferences by investigating the extent to which sustained neural activity in a task requiring cognitive control is correlated with DA. We hypothesized that neural measures of efficient filtering will predict individual variations in demand preferences. To test this hypothesis, we had participants perform a delayed-match-tosample paradigm with their ERPs recorded, as well as a separate behavioral demand-selection task. We focused on the ERP correlates of cognitive filtering efficiency (CFE)--the ability to ignore task-irrelevant distractors during working memory maintenance--as it manifests in a modulation of the contralateral delay activity, an ERP correlate of cognitive control. As predicted, we found a significant positive correlation between CFE and DA. Individuals with high CFE tended to be significantly more demand avoidant than their low-CFE counterparts. Low-CFE individuals, in comparison, did not form distinct cognitive effort preferences. Overall, our results suggest that cognitive control over the contents of visual working memory contribute to individual differences in the expression of cognitive effort preferences. This further implies that these observed preferences are the product of sensitivity to cognitive task demands.
& Minnery, B.
(2020). The Case of the Cognitive (Opti)miser: Electrophysiological Correlates of Working Memory Maintenance Predict Demand Avoidance. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 32 (8), 1550-1561.