This article presents an integrative model of effortful control, a resource-limited top-down control mechanism involved in mental tasks and physical exercises. Based on recent findings in the fields of neuroscience, social psychology and cognitive psychology, this model posits the intrinsic costs related to a weakening of the connectivity of neural networks underpinning effortful control as the main cause of mental fatigue in long and high-demanding tasks. In this framework, effort reflects three different inter-related aspects of the same construct. First, effort is a mechanism comprising a limited number of interconnected processing units that integrate information regarding the task constraints and subject’s state. Second, effort is the main output of this mechanism, namely, the effort signal that modulates neuronal activity in brain regions involved in the current task to select pertinent information. Third, effort is a feeling that emerges in awareness during effortful tasks and reflects the costs associated with goal-directed behavior. Finally, the model opens new avenues for research investigating effortful control at the behavioral and neurophysiological levels.
Updated on April 3, 2020