To do it or to let an automatic tool do it? The priority of control over effort
2013
Experimental Psychology
60 (6): 453-468
Authors: 
Osiurak F.
Wagner C.
Djerbi S.
Navarro J.

The aim of the present study is to provide experimental data relevant to the issue of what leads humans to use automatic tools. Two answers can be offered. The first is that humans strive to minimize physical and/or cognitive effort (principle of least effort). The second is that humans tend to keep their perceived control over the environment (principle of more control). These two factors certainly play a role, but the question raised here is to what do people give priority in situations wherein both manual and automatic actions take the same time - minimizing effort or keeping perceived control? To answer that question, we built four experiments in which participants were confronted with a recurring choice between performing a task manually (physical effort) or in a semi-automatic way (cognitive effort) versus using an automatic tool that completes the task for them (no effort). In this latter condition, participants were required to follow the progression of the automatic tool step by step. Our results showed that participants favored the manual or semi-automatic condition over the automatic condition. However, when they were offered the opportunity to perform recreational tasks in parallel, the shift toward manual condition disappeared. The findings give support to the idea that people give priority to keeping control over minimizing effort.