Willingness towards cognitive engagement: a preliminary study based on a behavioural entropy approach

  • Elena DapratiEmail author
  • Angela Sirigu
  • Michel Desmurget
  • Eugenio Martinelli
  • Daniele Nico
Research Article


Faced with a novel task some people enthusiastically embark in it and work with determination, while others soon lose interest and progressively reduce their efforts. Although cognitive neuroscience has explored the behavioural and neural features of apathy, the why’s and how’s of positive engagement are only starting to be understood. Stemming from the observation that the left hemisphere is commonly associated to a proactive (‘do something’) disposition, we run a preliminary study exploring the possibility that individual variability in eagerness to engage in cognitive tasks could reflect a preferred left- or right-hemisphere functioning mode. We adapted a task based on response-independent reinforcement and used entropy to characterize the degree of involvement, diversification, and predictability of responses. Entropy was higher in women, who were overall more active, less dependent on instructions, and never reduced their engagement during the task. Conversely, men showed lower entropy, took longer pauses, and became significantly less active by the end of the allotted time, renewing their efforts mainly in response to negative incentives. These findings are discussed in the light of neurobiological data on gender differences in behaviour.


Individual differences Entropy Apathy Initiative Response strategy Intention to act 



This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors. The authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the local committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Medicina dei Sistemi and CBMSUniversità di Roma Tor VergataRomeItaly
  2. 2.Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc JeannerodCNRS UMR 5229BronFrance
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Ingegneria ElettronicaUniversità di Roma Tor VergataRomaItaly
  4. 4.Dipartimento di PsicologiaUniversità di Roma La SapienzaRomaItaly

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