Research suggests that cognitive fatigue has a negative impact on physical activity participation. However, the mechanisms underlying this effect are yet unclear. Using an effort-based decision-making paradigm, we examined whether individuals weigh physical effort-costs more strongly when they are cognitively or physically fatigued. Twenty university students visited the lab on three occasions. On each visit, participants underwent a manipulation that was designed to either induce cognitive fatigue (i.e., 2-back task), physical fatigue (i.e., handgrip exercise), or served as a control condition (i.e., documentary watching). After the manipulations, participants performed an effort-based decision-making task in which they decided for 125 offers whether they accepted the offer to exert the required level of physical effort to obtain rewards that varied in value. The probability to accept offers declined with increasing effort requirements whereas the general probability to accept offers was not reduced by any of the experimental conditions. As expected, the decline in accepted offers with increasing effort requirements was stronger after prolonged exertion of physical effort compared to the control condition. Unexpectedly, this effect was not found after exerting cognitive effort, and exploratory analyses revealed that the impact of physical effort exertion on physical effort-based decisions was stronger than that of cognitive effort exertion. These findings suggest that people weight future physical effort-costs more strongly after exerting physical effort, whereas we could not find any evidence for this after exerting cognitive effort. We discuss multiple explanations for this discrepancy, and outline possibilities for future research.
Frontiers in Psychology