Give up or get going? Productive uncertainty in uncertain times

George C. Smith, Leah E. James, Michael Varnum, Daphna Oyserman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


We live in uncertain times; the path toward attaining important goals is best thought of as probabilistic, not certain. Three studies test the prediction that this “world uncertainty,” uncertainty about the path, is motivating if accompanied by certainty that one can have the skills needed to work on one’s goals. Self-and world-certainty were separately manipulated in college students, and effect on salience of academic and career possible identities and behaviors was assessed. For students, selfuncertainty reduces salience of academic-career possible identities (Study 1), but self-certainty does not help unless combined with some world-uncertainty (Study 2). This combination also increases planned study hours (Study 2) and actual goal-focused action, working on a resume builder instead of playing games (Study 3).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)681-700
Number of pages20
JournalSelf and Identity
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 23 2014


  • Academic
  • Goal
  • Motivation
  • Possible selves
  • Self
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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