Subjective (dis)utility of effort: Mentally and physically demanding tasks

Effort as a concept, whether momentary, sustained, or as a function of different task conditions, is of critical importance to resource theories of attention, fatigue/boredom, workplace motivation, career selection, performance, job incentives, and other applied psychology concerns. Various models of motivation suggest that there is an inverted-U-shaped function describing the personal utility of effort, but there are expected to be individual differences in the optimal levels of effort that also are related to specific domain preferences. The current study assessed the disutility of effort for 125 different tasks/activities and also explored individual differences correlates of task preferences, in a sample of 77 undergraduate participants. The participants rated each activity in terms of the amount of compensation they would require to perform the task for a period of 4 h. They also completed paired comparisons for a subset of 24 items, followed by a set of preference judgments. Multidimensional scaling and preference scaling techniques were used to determine individual differences in task preference. Personality, motivation, and interest traits were shown to be substantially related to task preferences. Implications for understanding which individuals are oriented toward or away from tasks with different effort demands are discussed, along with considerations for the dynamics of attentional effort allocations during task performance.