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Contrast and the justification of effort

Abstract

When humans are asked to evaluate rewards or outcomes that follow unpleasant (e.g., high-effort) events, they often assign higher value to that reward. This phenomenon has been referred to ascognitive dissonance or justification of effort. There is now evidence that a similar phenomenon can be found in nonhuman animals. When demonstrated in animals, however, it has been attributed to contrast between the unpleasant high effort and the conditioned stimulus for food. In the present experiment, we asked whether an analogous effect could be found in humans under conditions similar to those found in animals. Adult humans were trained to discriminate between shapes that followed a high-effort versus a low-effort response. In test, participants were found to prefer shapes that followed the high-effort response in training. These results suggest the possibility that contrast effects of the sort extensively studied in animals may play a role in cognitive dissonance and other related phenomena in humans.

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Correspondence to Thomas R. Zentall.

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Klein, E.D., Bhatt, R.S. & Zentall, T.R. Contrast and the justification of effort. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 12, 335–339 (2005). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03196381

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Keywords

  • Conditioned Stimulus
  • Test Trial
  • Discriminative Stimulus
  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • High Effort