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The Valorization of Effort

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Effort is valued in human societies, but is it valued beyond what one’s efforts produce? In two experiments, I tested whether or not effort serves as a signal of one’s moral character, even in situations where greater effort did not lead to greater productivity. Participants read short vignettes about a high-effort and low-effort worker in randomized order and evaluated each target on a variety of person perception measures. In both studies, and in both between- and within-subjects analyses, participants perceived the high-effort worker as more moral than the low-effort worker, even when controlling for perceived warmth, competence, and productivity. In the second experiment, participants were also willing to pay the high-effort worker around $1000 more per year than the low-effort worker doing the exact same amount of work. These effects were not moderated by participants’ political orientation or Protestant Work Ethic scores. These results support a cognitive evolutionary account of effort valorization that may transcend cultural boundaries. Future directions and implications for research on effort valorization are discussed.

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This item is under embargo until June 7, 2025.