Expectations about future learning influence moment-to-moment feelings of suspense

Zhi Wei Li, Neil R. Bramley, Todd M. Gureckis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Suspense is a cognitive and affective state that is often experienced in the anticipation of information and contributes to the enjoyment and consumption of entertainment such as movies or sports. Ely et al. proposed a formal definition of suspense which relies upon predictions about future belief updates. In order to empirically evaluate this theory, we designed a task based on the casino card game Blackjack where a variety of suspense dynamics can be experimentally induced. Our behavioural data confirmed the explanatory power of this theory. We further compared this formulation with other heuristic models inspired by studies in other domains such as narratives and found that most heuristic models cannot well account for the specific temporal dynamics of suspense across wide range of game variants. We additionally propose a way to test whether experiencing greater levels of suspense motivates more game-playing. In summary, this work is an initial attempt to link formal models of information and uncertainty with affective cognitive states and motivation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1099-1120
Number of pages22
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021


  • Probabilistic modelling
  • subjective report
  • suspense

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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