The transdiagnostic structure of mental effort avoidance

TitleThe transdiagnostic structure of mental effort avoidance
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsPatzelt, EH, Kool, W, Millner, AJ, Gershman, SJ
JournalScientific Reports
Date Published02/2019

The law of least mental effort states that, everything else being equal, the brain tries to minimize mental effort expenditure during task performance by avoiding decisions that require greater cognitive demands. Prior studies have shown associations between disruptions in effort expenditure and specific psychiatric illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia and depression) or clinically-related symptoms and traits (e.g., anhedonia and apathy), yet no research has explored this issue transdiagnostically. Specifically, this research has largely focused on a single diagnostic category, symptom, or trait. However, abnormalities in effort expression could be related to several different psychiatrically-relevant constructs that cut across diagnostic boundaries. Therefore, we examined the relationship between avoidance of mental effort and a diverse set of clinically-related symptoms and traits, and transdiagnostic latent factors in a large sample (n = 811). Only lack of perseverance, a dimension of impulsiveness, was associated with increased avoidance of mental effort. In contrast, several constructs were associated with less mental effort avoidance, including positive urgency, distress intolerance, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, disordered eating, and a factor consisting of compulsive behavior and intrusive thoughts. These findings demonstrate that deviations from normative effort expenditure are associated with a number of constructs that are common to several forms of psychiatric illness.

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