Why do certain tasks and activities feel effortful, and, ultimately, result in task disengagement? To answer this question, we connected and extended prior work on labor/leisure tradeoffs, autonomy, opportunity costs, effort, and task utility into an integrative model of the antecedents and consequences of perceived opportunity costs, defined as the perceived costs of missing out on a tempting alternative action. Using both an experimental causal chain approach (Experiments 1-3) as well as a large experience sampling study (Nobs = 9,994), we found that activities that were low in autonomy predicted opportunity costs, and that opportunity costs, in turn, positively predicted feelings of effort and negatively predicted task utility. Mediation analyses supported the process model. Finally, using a novel dropoutparadigm, Experiment 5 provided evidence that opportunity costs are causally related to task disengagement. Our findings suggest that opportunity costs may play a non-negligible role in creating the subjective sensation of effort and in guiding task choice. Moreover, they provide a conceptual bridge to autonomous motivation, which may shield the individual from the perception that he or she may have better things to do.
- Opportunity costs