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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Selecting between visuomotor lotteries to measure mental effort in risky decisions


It is intuitive to believe that humans take considerations of mental effort into account when making decisions. However, it has proved difficult to differentiate theories of mental effort in the absence of direct measurements of this psychological construct. Existing measurements of mental effort using response times and revealed preferences have low reliability. In this paper, we present a new experimental task - selecting between visuomotor lotteries using eye-tracking for sampling lotteries - that enables direct measurement of mental effort. Unlike response time-based measures, effort measurements in this task are not confounded by actual effort allocation. Unlike revealed preference-based measures, effort measurements in this task are acquired on a natural scale unitized by automatic visual selection processes. We also report results from a simple experiment conducted using this task, which reproduce existing findings of costly effort-aversion, and also demonstrate adaptive adjustment of mental effort.

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