Such hypotheses are also quite difficult to reject. Rather, the absence of behavioral-cognitive alternatives, combined with high levels of motivation to stay on task and not engage in task-unrelated behavior keeps ‘opportunity costs’ relatively low (Kurzban et al., 2013). As attentional effort and the associated sensation of fatigue and boredom result from monitoring and accruing opportunity costs, a motivated subject routinely performing a single task, with no alternative
action in sight, accrues little to no such costs and thus performance will not degrade. We repeatedly observed CH5424802 cell line relatively stable levels of cholinergic neuromodulatory activity over 40–60 min of SAT performance (Arnold et al., 2002; St Peters et al., 2011). As an alternative to hypothesising that these levels indicate the stable and limited demands on top-down
control of attention in subjects performing the standard SAT, these stable levels of cholinergic neuromodulation may index the output of estimating the utility of the current over alternative actions, in short, the low opportunity costs that are accrued by subjects having access only to the regular SAT. Because opportunity costs are already low in the absence of alternative tasks, we now understand why lowering R428 cost the demands on performance (animals had access to only one response lever) failed to alter levels of cholinergic neuromodulation (Himmelheber et al., 2001). In contrast, staying on task in the presence of a distractor Bumetanide and regaining high performance levels thereafter requires activation of diverse neuronal mechanisms to enhance the processing of cues and filter distractors and to monitor prediction errors (see Sarter et al., 2006). Even in the absence of an alternative task, distractors therefore increase the costs for
staying on task and the relatively utility of discontinuing performance. The presentation of distractors may also trigger the actual monitoring of these relative utilities. It is in such situations that we observed highest levels of cholinergic neuromodulation. Moreover, and importantly, higher cholinergic levels were correlated with better (residual) performance (St Peters et al., 2011). Thus, we hypothesise that higher levels of cholinergic neuromodulation shift the cost/benefit calculation for staying on task, relative to the utility for switching to an alternative task or, in our experimental settings, over discontinuation of performance. Higher levels of cholinergic neuromodulation reduce opportunity costs and perhaps also the subjective and aversive experience of computing these costs (mental effort), thereby decreasing the likelihood for discontinuing performance or, if available, switching to alternative action. As elevated levels of cholinergic neuromodulation are recruited in part via mesolimbic–basal forebrain interactions (St Peters et al., 2011; see also Neigh et al., 2004; Zmarowksi et al.