Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 1–10 | Cite as

Enjoying the possibility of defeat: Outcome uncertainty, suspense, and intrinsic motivation

  • Sami AbuhamdehEmail author
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Baland Jalal
Original Paper


In two studies, the relevance of outcome uncertainty and suspense for intrinsic motivation was examined. In Study 1, participants played a competitive zero-sum video game in which outcome uncertainty during the game (operationalized as the degree of parity between player–opponent scores) was manipulated. Greater outcome uncertainty led to greater enjoyment, and this effect was mediated by suspense. Although outperforming one’s opponent by a wide margin maximized perceived competence, these games were less enjoyable than closer games with higher outcome uncertainty. These findings were extended in Study 2, which incorporated a behavioral measure of intrinsic motivation. Participants chose to play games they previously rated as relatively high in suspense but relatively low in perceived competence over games which provided higher perceptions of competence but less suspense. Performance concern moderated this effect. Implications of the findings for theories of intrinsic motivation, and possible avenues for future research, are discussed.


Outcome uncertainty Suspense Perceived competence Intrinsic motivation 



We thank Jeanne Nakamura, Timothy Rentz, and Diane Sunar for their comments on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sami Abuhamdeh
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
    • 2
  • Baland Jalal
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyIstanbul Şehir UniversityIstanbulTurkey
  2. 2.Claremont Graduate UniversityClaremontUSA
  3. 3.University of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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