The perceived effort level of an action shapes everyday decisions. Despite the importance of these perceptions for decision-making, the behavioral and neural representations of the subjective cost of effort are not well understood. While a number of studies have implicated anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in decisions about effort/reward trade-offs, none have experimentally isolated effort valuation from reward and choice difficulty, a function that is commonly ascribed to this region. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor brain activity while human participants engaged in uncertain choices for prospective physical effort. Our task was designed to examine effort-based decision-making in the absence of reward and separated from choice difficulty-allowing us to investigate the brain's role in effort valuation, independent of these other factors. Participants exhibited subjectivity in their decision-making, displaying increased sensitivity to changes in subjective effort as objective effort levels increased. Analysis of blood-oxygenation-level dependent activity revealed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) encoded the subjective valuation of prospective effort, and ACC activity was best described by choice difficulty. These results provide insight into the processes responsible for decision-making regarding effort, partly dissociating the roles of vmPFC and ACC in prospective valuation of effort and choice difficulty.
- anterior cingulate cortex
- choice difficulty
- ventromedial prefrontal cortex
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience