The importance of challenge for the enjoyment of intrinsically motivated, goal-directed activities

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2012 Mar;38(3):317-30. doi: 10.1177/0146167211427147. Epub 2011 Nov 8.


Although early interview-based analyses of the enjoyment of intrinsically motivated, goal-directed activities (e.g., chess, rock climbing, art making) suggested the importance of relatively difficult, "optimal" challenges, subsequent findings derived from a wider range of activities have not provided consistent support for this proposition. Two studies were conducted to clarify the relation between challenge and enjoyment. Study 1 focused on a single activity-Internet chess. The importance of challenge was evident at the subjective level (perceived challenge strongly predicted enjoyment) as well as the objective level (games against superior opponents were more enjoyable than games against inferior opponents, and close games were more enjoyable than blowouts). In Study 2, the experience sampling method was used to examine the enjoyment of challenge across a wide range of everyday activities. Activity motivation (intrinsically motivated, non-intrinsically motivated) and activity type (goal directed, non-goal directed) moderated the relation. Implications for theories of intrinsic motivation are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motivation*
  • Pleasure*