Assessing Interpretations of Experienced Ease and Difficulty as Motivational Constructs

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Are people motivated by ease and sapped by difficulty, or the reverse, does ease undermine motivation while difficulty bolsters it? Following identity-based motivation theory, whether ease or difficulty bolsters or undermines motivation depends on which lay theory of ease or difficulty is accessible in the moment. Experienced ease can imply that something is “possible for me” in part because the odds of success are high, or that something is “not worth my time” in part because the task is of low value. Experienced difficulty can imply that something is “important for me” as the task is valued, or that something is “impossible for me” as odds of success are low for “me” or “us.” We developed ease-as-possibility, ease-as-triviality, difficulty-as-importance, and difficulty-as-impossibility measures to assess individual differences in endorsement of these lay theories (N = 963). We tested (N = 200) convergent and discriminant validity with other measures of motivation: self-efficacy, locus of control, growth, grit, mental toughness, prevention and promotion regulatory focus, and construal level. We documented predictive validity by showing that performance on a cognitive reasoning task correlates with ease-as-possibility, ease-as-triviality, and difficulty-as-impossibility (N = 183). Ease-as-possibility, ease-as-triviality, difficulty-as-importance, and difficulty-as-impossibility supplement other measures of motivation, yielding new insight into motivational processes. These measures can be used in addition to other tools, including priming and implicit assessment.

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