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The Motivating-Uncertainty Effect: Uncertainty Increases Resource Investment in the Process of Reward Pursuit

Luxi Shen, Ayelet Fishbach and Christopher K. Hsee

Journal of Consumer Research, 2015, vol. 41, issue 5, 1301 - 1315

Abstract: Can a reward of an uncertain magnitude be more motivating than a reward of a certain magnitude? This research documents the motivating-uncertainty effect and specifies when this effect occurs. People invest more effort, time, and money to qualify for an uncertain reward (e.g., a 50% chance at $2 and a 50% chance at $1) than a certain reward of a higher expected value (e.g., a 100% chance at $2). This effect arises only when people focus on the process of pursuing a reward, not when they focus on the outcome (the reward itself). When the focus is on the process of reward pursuit, uncertainty generates positive experience such as excitement and hence increases motivation. Four studies involving real rewards lend support to the motivating-uncertainty effect. This research carries theoretical implications for research on risk preference and motivation and practical implications for how to devise cost-efficient consumer incentive systems.

Date: 2015
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