Despite its importance in everyday life, the computational nature of effort investment remains poorly understood. We propose an effort model obtained from optimality considerations, and a neurocomputational approximation to the optimal model. Both are couched in the framework of reinforcement learning. It is shown that choosing when or when not to exert effort can be adaptively learned, depending on rewards, costs, and task difficulty. In the neurocomputational model, the limbic loop comprising anterior cingulate cortex and ventral striatum in the basal ganglia allocates effort to cortical stimulus-action pathways whenever this is valuable. We demonstrate that the model approximates optimality. Next, we consider two hallmark effects from the cognitive control literature, namely proportion congruency and sequential congruency effects. It is shown that the model exerts both proactive and reactive cognitive control. Then, we simulate two physical effort tasks. In line with empirical work, impairing the model’s dopaminergic pathway leads to apathetic behavior. Thus, we conceptually unify the exertion of cognitive and physical effort, studied across a variety of literatures (e.g., motivation and cognitive control) and animal species
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