Dealing with uncertain situations



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There are two ways for a situation to be uncertain. Subjective uncertainty refers to not knowing facts. Objective uncertainty refers to future events that have not been determined yet. A wide ranging literature review finds that subjective uncertainty inhibits behavior, increases conserving resources and willpower, and stimulates search for information – though in crude, sometimes dysfunctional fashion. In contrast, objective uncertainty calls for action, reflected in agentic control, increased arousal, and greater willingness to take risks. Again, some responses are irrational, such as exerting more effort for less expected reward, and betting more on uncontrollable future than past events. With both kinds of uncertainty, attention is mobilized and emotion is prolonged. Our review uncovered multiple signs that some uncertainty is beneficial and heightens enjoyment as a kind of spice of life, or, in some cases, as a welcome hope that a bad outcome might still be avoided.


Under embargo until 16 November 2024. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in The Journal of Positive Psychology on 16 November 2023, available at: It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Uncertainty, Effort, Information-Seeking, Risk, Conservation, Resources


Alquist, J. L., & Baumeister, R. F. (2023). Dealing with uncertain situations. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1–24.