Is mental effort exertion contagious?

Psychon Bull Rev. 2016 Apr;23(2):624-31. doi: 10.3758/s13423-015-0923-3.


The presence of another person can influence task performance. What is, however, still unclear is whether performance also depends on what this other person is doing. In two experiments, two participants (A and B) jointly performed a Simon task, and we selectively manipulated the difficulty of the task for participant A only. This was achieved by presenting A with 90% congruent trials (creating an easy task requiring low effort investment) or 10% congruent trials (creating a difficult task requiring high effort investment). Although this manipulation is irrelevant for the task of participant B, we nevertheless observed that B exerted more mental effort when participant A performed the difficult version of the task, compared to the easy version. Crucially, in Experiment 2 this was found to be the case even when participants could not see each other's stimuli. These results provide a first compelling demonstration that the exertion of effort is contagious.

Keywords: Cognitive control; Contagion; Effort exertion; Joint Simon; Social facilitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Facilitation*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult