Hit me with your best shock: Differences between cognitive and physical penalties in a decision based reaching task


Many studies use of cognitive penalties as performance incentives, however there is a large gap in research involving how physical penalties affect decision making and risk taking. Cognitive penalties primarily include situations where there is potential for a loss of value. Physical penalties primarily come in the form of perceived pain or discomfort and may be particularly relevant for action decisions. The purpose of the present study is to distinguish differences in decision making behaviors as they relate to cognitive and physical penalties. Participants were presented with two target/penalty configurations and asked to choose between the two of them by aiming to one of targets. The target, when hit, yielded a reward. Critically the penalty regions differed based on whether they resulted in a loss of money (cognitive penalty) or a cutaneous electric shock (physical penalty). Each of these penalty types has a high and low valued version to compare effect of penalty magnitude. Four groups of participants emerged who utilized different strategies when performing the task: those who preferred cognitive penalties, those who preferred physical penalties, and those who changed their preference based on the magnitude of the penalty; those who were indifferent of the form of penalty presented. Results showed that participants who preferred physical penalties had higher risk-taking scores on the Evaluation of Risk (EVAR) questionnaire. Furthermore, these groups demonstrated differences in their movement trajectories. These results demonstrate that there are individual differences in motor risk-taking behavior.

Acknowledgments: NSERC