Risky Choice and Memory for Effort: Hard Work Stands Out

Alice Mason, Christopher R. Madan, Cody A. Freas, Nick Simonsen, Elliot A. Ludvig, Marcia L. Spetch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


When deciding between different courses of action, both the potential outcomes and the costs of making a choice should be considered. These costs include the cognitive and physical effort of the different options. In many decision contexts, the outcome of the choice is guaranteed but the amount of effort required to achieve that outcome is unknown. Here, we studied choices between options that varied in the riskiness of the effort (number of responses) required. People made repeated choices between pairs of options that required them to click different numbers of sequentially presented response circles. Easy-effort options led to small numbers of response circles, whereas hard-effort options led to larger numbers of response circles. For both easy and hard-effort options, fixed options led to a consistent effort, whereas risky options led to variable effort that, with a 50/50 chance, required either more effort or less effort than the fixed option. Participants who showed a preference for easier over harder options were more risk averse for decisions involving hard options than for decisions involving easy options. On subsequent memory tests, people most readily recalled the hardest outcome, and they overestimated its frequency of occurrence. Memory for the effort associated with each risky option strongly correlated with individual risky preferences for both easy-effort and hard-effort choices. These results suggest a relationship between memory biases and risky choice for effort similar to that found in risky choice for reward.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-106
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Alberta Gambling Research Institute and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant to Marcia L. Spetch. Alice Mason was supported by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (ECF-2018-408). Door images were extracted from “Irish Doors” on fineartamerica.com with permission from Joe Bonita. The authors thank Yang Liu and Sucheta Chakravarty for assistance with programming, Maria Shanks for assistance with testing participants, and Sarah Treit at FiguresFirst. ca for assistance with data figures


  • Decisions from experience
  • Effort
  • Extreme outcomes
  • Memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty


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