Tolerance of Ambiguity: A Review of the Recent Literature


This review paper attempts to update the literature on tolerance of ambiguity (TA) and related concepts since a previous review (Furnham & Ribchester, 1995). Various related concepts like Uncertainly Avoidance and In/Tolerance of Uncertainly are reviewed. Both correlational and experimental studies of TA are reviewed and tabulated. Further, an attempt was made to identify and critique various different questionnaires design to measure TA. Recommendations for the use of these tests in research are made. The reasons for progress and lack of progress in this field are highlighted.

Share and Cite:

Furnham, A. & Marks, J. (2013). Tolerance of Ambiguity: A Review of the Recent Literature. Psychology, 4, 717-728. doi: 10.4236/psych.2013.49102.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Acedo, F. J., & Jones, M. V. (2007). Speed of internationalisation and entrepreneurial cognition. Journal of World Business, 42, 236-252. doi:10.1016/j.jwb.2007.04.012
[2] Altinay, L., Madanoglu, M., Daniele, R., & Lashley, C. (2012). The influence of family tradition and psychological traits on entrepreneurial intention. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 31, 489-499. doi:10.1016/j.ijhm.2011.07.007
[3] Anderson, S., & Schwartz, A. (1992). Intolerance of ambiguity and depression. Social Cognition, 10, 271-298. doi:10.1521/soco.1992.10.3.271
[4] Bardi, A., Guerra, V. M., Sharadeh, G., & Ramdeny, D. (2009). Openness and ambiguity intolerance: Their differential relations to well-being in the context of an academic life transition. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 219-223. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.03.003
[5] Becherer, R. C., & Maurer, J. G. (1999). The proactive personality disposition and entrepreneurial behavior among small company presidents. Journal of Small Business Management, 37, 28-36.
[6] Benjamin, A. J., Riggio, R. E., & Mayes, B. T. (1996). Reliability and factor structure of Budner’s Tolerance for Ambiguity Scale. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 11, 625-632.
[7] Birrell, J., Meares, K., Wilkinson, A., & Freeston, M. (2011). Toward a definition of intolerance of uncertainty. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1198-1208. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.07.009
[8] Budner, S. (1962). Intolerance of ambiguity as a personality variable. Journal of Personality, 30, 29-50. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1962.tb02303.x
[9] Buhr, K., & Dugas, M. J. (2006). Investigating the construct validity of intolerance of uncertainty and its unique relationship with worry. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 20, 222-236. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2004.12.004
[10] Caligiuri, P. M., Jacobs, R. R., & Farr, J. L. (2000). The attitudinal and behavioural openness scale: Scale development and construct validation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 27-46. doi:10.1016/S0147-1767(99)00021-8
[11] Caligiuri, P., & Tarique, I. (2012). Dynamic cross-cultural competenvies and gobal leadership effectiveness. Journal of World Business, in press. doi:10.1016/j.jwb.2012.01.014
[12] Carleton, R. N., Norton, M. A. P., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2007). Fearing the unknown: A short version of the intolerance of uncertainty scale. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, 105-117. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.03.014
[13] Carter, J. D., & Hall, J. A. (2008). Individual differences in the accuracy of detecting social covariations: Ecological sensitivity. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 439-455. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2007.07.007
[14] Chong, V. K. (1998). Testing the contingency (fit) between management accounting systems and the managerial performance: A research note on the moderating role of tolerance of ambiguity. British Accounting Review, 30, 331-342. doi:10.1006/bare.1998.0073
[15] Conchar, M. P., Zinkhan, G. M., Peters, C., & Olavarrieta, S. (2004). An integrated framework for the conceptualization of consumers’ perceived risk processing. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 32, 418-436. doi:10.1177/0092070304267551
[16] DeRoma, V. M., Martin, K. M., & Kessler, M. L. (2003). The relationship between tolerance for ambiguity and need for course structure. Journal of the Institute of Psychology, 30, 104-109.
[17] Diaz, F., & Rodriguez, A. (2003). Locus of control and values of community entrepreneurs. Social Behavior and Personality, 31, 739-748. doi:10.2224/sbp.2003.31.8.739
[18] Dugas, M. J., Freeston, M. H., & Ladouceur, R. (1997). Intolerance of uncertainty and problem orientation in worry. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 21, 593-606. doi:10.1023/A:1021890322153
[19] Durrheim, K., & Foster, D. (1997). Tolerance of ambiguity as a content specific construct. Personality and Individual Differences, 22, 741-750. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(96)00207-3
[20] Ehrman, M. E. (1999). Ego boundaries and tolerance of ambiguity in second language learning. In J. Arnold (Ed.), Affect in Language Learning (pp. 68-86). Cambridge, New York.
[21] Ellsberg, D. (1961). Risk, ambiguity, and the Savage axioms. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 75, 643-669. doi:10.2307/1884324
[22] Endres, M. L., Chowdhury, S., & Milner, M. (2009) .Ambiguity tolerance and accurate assessement of self-efficacy in a complex decision task. Journal of Management and Organization, 15, 31-46. doi:10.5172/jmo.837.15.1.31
[23] Entrialgo, M., Fernandez, E., & Vazquez, C. J. (2000). Psychological characteristics and process: The role of entrepreurship in Spanish SMEs. European Journal of Innovation Management, 3, 137-149. doi:10.1108/14601060010334894
[24] Eysenck, H. (1954). The psychology of politics. London: Routledge.
[25] Facione, N. C., Facione, P. A., & Sanchez, C. A. (1994). Critical thinking disposition as a measure of competent clinical judgment: The development of the California critical thinking disposition inventory. Journal of Nursing Education, 33, 345-350.
[26] Feather, N. (1969). Preference for information in relation to consistency, novelty, intolerance of ambiguity and dogmatism. Australian Journal of Psychology, 31, 235-249. doi:10.1080/00049536908257793
[27] Fergus, T., & Wu, K. (2013). The intolerance of uncertainty scale. Assessment.
[28] Firoozabadi, A., & Bahredar, M. J. (2006). P02-419-Ambiguity tolerance in students entering medical school (SHIRAZ-2006). European Psychiatry, 26, 1015. doi:10.1016/S0924-9338(11)72720-1
[29] Freeston, M. H., Rhéaume, J., Letarte, H., Dugas, M. J., & Ladouceur, R. (1994). Why do people worry? Personality and Individual Differences, 17, 791-802. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(94)90048-5
[30] Frenkel-Brunswick, E. (1948). Intolerance of ambiguity as an emotional and perceptual personality variable. Journal of Personality, 18, 108-123. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1949.tb01236.x
[31] Frenkel-Brunswick, E. (1949). Tolerance toward ambiguity as a personality variable. American Psychologist, 3, 268.
[32] Frenkel-Brunswick, E. (1951). Personality theory and perception. In R. Blake, & E. Ramsey (Eds.), Perception: An approach to personality. New York: Ronald. doi:10.1037/11505-013
[33] Furnham, A. (1994). A content, correlational and factor-analytic study of 4 tolerance of ambiguity questionnaires. Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 403-410. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(94)90066-3
[34] Furnham, A., & Avison, M. (1997). Personality and preference for surreal paintings. Personality and Individual Differences, 23, 923-935. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(97)00131-1
[35] Furnham, A., & Ribchester, T. (1995). Tolerance of ambiguity: A review of the concept, its measurement and applications. Current Psychology, 14, 179-199. doi:10.1007/BF02686907
[36] Geller, G., Tambor, E. S., Chase, G. A., & Holtzman, N. A. (1993). Measuring physicians’ tolerance for ambiguity and its relationship to their reported practices regarding genetic testing. Medical Care, 31, 989-1001. doi:10.1097/00005650-199311000-00002
[37] Goldratt, E. (2000). The impact of perceived uncertainty, tolerance for ambiguity and feelings of stress on employees attitudes towards organizational change. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan.
[38] Green V., & Roger, D. (2001). Coping with uncertainty: The construction of a new measure. Personality and Individual Differences, 31, 519-534. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(00)00156-2
[39] Grenier, S., Barrette, A. M., & Ladouceur, R. (2005). Intolerance of uncertainty and intolerance of ambiguity: Similarities and differences. Personality and Individual Differences, 39, 593-600. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.02.014
[40] Gupta, A., & Govindarajan, V. (1984). Business unit strategy, managerial characteristics and business unit effectiveness at strategy implementation. Academy of Management Journal, 27, 25-41. doi:10.2307/255955
[41] Gurel, E., Altinay, L., & Daniele, R. (2010). Tourism students’ entrepreneurial intentions. Annals of Tourism Research, 37, 646-669. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2009.12.003
[42] Hartmann, F., & Slapnicar, S. (2012). The perceived fairness of performance evaluation: The role of uncertainty. Management Accounting Research, 23, 17-33. doi:10.1016/j.mar.2011.10.004
[43] Hartmann, F. G. H. (2005). The effects of tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty on the appropriateness of accounting performance measures. ABACUS, 41, 241-264. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6281.2005.00181.x
[44] Hazen, B. T., Overstreet, R. E., Jones-Farmer, L. A., & Field, H. S. (2012). The role of ambiguity tolerance in consumer perception of remanufactured products. International Journal of Production Economics, 135, 781-790. doi:10.1016/j.ijpe.2011.10.011
[45] Herman, J. L., Stevens, M. J., Bird, A., Mendenhall, M., & Oddou, G. (2010). The tolerance for ambiguity scale: Towards a more refined measure for international management research. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 34, 58-65. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2009.09.004
[46] Hofstede, G. (1984). Cultures’ consequences. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
[47] Hofstede, G., & Bond, M. H. (1984). Hofstede’s cultural dimensions: An independent validation using Rockeach’s value survey. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 15, 417-433. doi:10.1177/0022002184015004003
[48] Houran, J., & Williams, C. (1998). Relation of tolerance of ambiguity to global and specific paranormal experience. Psychological Reports, 83, 807-818.
[49] Hung, K.-T., & Tangpong, C. (2010). General risk propensity in multifaceted business decisions: Scale development. Journal of Managerial Issues, 22, 88-106.
[50] Ironside, P. M., Jefferies, P. R., & Martin, A. (2009). Fostering patient safety competencies using multiple-patient simulation experiences. Nursing Outlook, 57, 332-337. doi:10.1016/j.outlook.2009.07.010
[51] Iyer, G., McBride, D., & Reckers, P. (2012). The effect of a decision aid on risk aversion in capital investment decisions. Advances in Accounting, 28, 64-74. doi:10.1016/j.adiac.2012.02.007
[52] Jaensch, E. (1938). Der gegenryppus. Leipzig: Barth.
[53] Judge, T. A., Thoresen, C. J., Pucik, V., & Welbourne, T. M. (1999). Managerial coping with organizational change: A dispositional perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 107-122. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.84.1.107
[54] Kaplan, K. J. (1972). On the ambivalence-indifference problem in attitude theory and measurement: A suggested modification of the semantic differential technique. Psychological Bulletin, 77, 361-372. doi:10.1037/h0032590
[55] Krohne, H. W. (1989). The concept of coping modes: Relating cognitive person variables to actual coping behaviour. Advances in Behaviour Research and Therapy, 11, 235-248. doi:10.1016/0146-6402(89)90027-1
[56] Krohne, H. W. (1993). Vigilance and cognitive avoidance as concepts in coping research. In H. W. Krohne (Ed.), Attention and avoidance. Toronto: Hogrefe & Huber.
[57] Lachance, S., Ladouceur, R., & Dugas, M. J. (1999). Elements explaining the tendency to worry. Applied Psychology—An International Review, 48, 187-196. doi:10.1080/026999499377600
[58] Ladouceur, R., Gosselin, P., & Dugas., M. J. (2000). Experimental manipulation of intolerance of uncertainty: A study of a theoretical model of worry. Behaviour Therapy and Research, 38, 933-941. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(99)00133-3
[59] Lal, M., & Hassel, L. (1998). The joint impact of environmental uncertainty and tolerance of ambiguity on top managers’ perceptions of the usefulness of non-conventional management accounting information. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 14, 259-271. doi:10.1016/S0956-5221(98)80010-9
[60] Lange, R., & Houran, J. (1998). Delusions of the paranormal: A haunting question of perception. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 186, 637-645. doi:10.1097/00005053-199810000-00008
[61] Lange, R., & Houran, J. (1999). The role of fear in delusions of the paranormal. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 187, 159-166. doi:10.1097/00005053-199903000-00005
[62] Lauriola, M., & Levin, I. P. (2001). Relating individual differences in Attitude toward Ambiguity to risky choices. Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, 14, 107-122. doi:10.1002/bdm.368
[64] Le, A., Haller, C. S., Langer, E. J., & Courvoisier, D. S. (2012). Mindful multitasking: The relationship between mindful flexibility and media multitasking. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 1526-1532. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.03.022
[65] Leong, C. H., & Ward, C. (2000). Identity conflict in sojourners. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 763-776. doi:10.1016/S0147-1767(00)00030-4
[66] Litman, J. A. (2010). Relationships between measures of I- and D-type curiosity, ambiguity tolerance, and need for closure: An initial test of the wanting-liking model of information-seeking. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 397-402. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.11.005
[67] Lorsch, J. W., & Morse, J. J. (1974). Organisations and their members. New York: Harper and Row.
[68] MacDonald, A. P. (1970). Revised scale for ambiguity tolerance: Reliability and validity. Psychological Reports, 26, 791-798. doi:10.2466/pr0.1970.26.3.791
[69] Marginson, D., & Ogden, S. (2005). Coping with ambiguity through the budget: The positive effects of budgetary targets on managers’ budgeting behaviours. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 30, 435-456. doi:10.1016/j.aos.2004.05.004
[70] McCrae, R. R. (1996). Social consequences of experiential openness. Psychological Bulletin, 120, 323-337. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.120.3.323
[71] McLain, D. L. (1993). The MSTAT-I: A new measure of an individual’s tolerance for ambiguity. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53, 183-189. doi:10.1177/0013164493053001020
[72] McLain, D. L. (2009). Evidence of the properties of an ambiguity tolerance measure: The multiple stimulus types ambiguity tolerance scale-II. Psychological Reports, 105, 975-988. doi:10.2466/pr0.105.3.975-988
[73] McMullen, J. S., & Shepherd, D. A. ( 2006). Entrepreneurial action and the role of uncertainty in the theory of the entrepreneur. Academy of Management Review, 31, 132-152. doi:10.5465/AMR.2006.19379628
[74] Merrotsky, P. (2013). Tolerance of ambuity: A trait of the creative personality. Creativity Research Journal, 25, 232-237. doi:10.1080/10400419.2013.783762
[75] Million, T. (1957). Authoritarianism, intolerance of ambiguity and rigidity under ego- and task-involving conditions. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 99, 29-33. doi:10.1037/h0040352
[76] Morton, K. R., Worthley, J. S., Nitch, S. R., Lamberton, H. H., Loo, L. K., & Testerman, J. K. (2000). Integration of cognition and emotion: A postformal operations model of physician-patient interaction. Journal of Adult Development, 7, 151-160. doi:10.1023/A:1009542229631
[77] Neill, S., & Rose, G. M. (2007). Achieving adaptive ends through equivocality: A study of organizational antecedents and consequences. Journal of Business Research, 60, 305-313. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2006.10.020
[78] Norton, R. W. (1975). Measure of ambiguity tolerance. Journal of Personality Assessment, 39, 607-619. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa3906_11
[79] O’Connor, P. (1952). Ethnocentrism, “intolerance of ambiguity”, and abstract reasoning ability. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 47, 526-530. doi:10.1037/h0056142
[80] Pillis, E., & Reardon, K. (2007). The influence of personality traits and persuasive messages on entrepreneurial intention. Career Development International, 12, 382-396. doi:10.1108/13620430710756762
[81] Rajagopal, L., & Hamouz, F. L. (2009). Use of food attitudes and behaviors in determination of the personality characteristic of openness: A pilot study. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33, 254-258. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2009.02.004
[82] Rasch, G. (1960). Probabilistic models for some intelligence and attainment tests. Chicago, IL: MESA Press.
[83] Richardson, P. S., Jain, A. K., & Dick, A. (1996). Household store brand proneness: A framework. Journal of Retailing, 72, 159-185. doi:10.1016/S0022-4359(96)90012-3
[84] Rong, G., & Grover, V. (2009). Keeping up-to-date with information technology: Testing a model of technological knowledge renewal effectiveness for IT professionals. Information and Management, 46, 376-387. doi:10.1016/
[85] Rush, M. C., Schoel, W. A., & Barnard, S. M. (1995). Psychological resiliency in the public sector: “Hardiness” and pressure for change. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 46, 17-39. doi:10.1006/jvbe.1995.1002
[86] Rydell, S. (1966). Tolerance of ambiguity and semantic differential ratings. Psychological Reports, 19, 1303-1312. doi:10.2466/pr0.1966.19.3f.1303
[87] Rydell, S. T., & Rosen, E. (1966). Measurement and some correlates of need-cognition. Psychological Reports, 19, 139-165. doi:10.2466/pr0.1966.19.1.139
[88] Saunders, D. (1955). Some preliminary interpretive material for the PRI research memorandum SS. Educational Testing Service.
[89] Scott, W. A. (1966). Brief report: Measures of cognitive structure. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 1, 391-395. doi:10.1207/s15327906mbr0103_9
[90] Scott, W. A. (1969). Structure of natural cognitions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, 261-278. doi:10.1037/h0027734
[91] Scott, W. A., Osgood, D. W., & Peterson, C. (1979). Cognitive structure: Theory and measurement of individual differences. Washington: Winston & Sons.
[92] Steginga, S. K., & Occhipinti, S. (2004). The application of the heuristic-systematic processing model to treatment decision-making about prostate cancer. Medical Decision Making, 24, 573-583. doi:10.1177/0272989X04271044
[93] Stewart Jr., W. H., Carland, J. C., Carland, J. W., Watson, W. E., & Sweo, R. (2003). Entrepreneurial dispositions and goal orientations: A comparative exploration of United States and Russian entrepreneurs. Journal of Small Business Management, 41, 27-46. doi:10.1111/1540-627X.00065
[94] Storey, R. G., & Aldag, R. J. (1983). Perceived environmental uncertainty: A test of an integrated explanatory model. Paper presented at the 43rd Annual meeting of the National Academy of Management.
[95] Swami, V., Stieger, S., Pietschnig, J., & Voracek, M. (2010). The disinterested play of thought: Individual differences and preference for surrealist motion pictures. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 855-859. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.02.013
[96] Tapanes, M. A., Smith, G. G., & White, J. A. (2009). Cultural diversity in online learning: A study of the perceived effects of dissonance in levels of individualism/collectivism and tolerance of ambiguity. Internet and Higher Education, 12, 26-34. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2008.12.001
[97] Teoh, H. Y., & Foo, S. L. (1997). Moderating effects of tolerance for ambiguity and risk-taking propensity on the role conflict-perceived performance relationship: Evidence from Singaporean entrepreneurs. Journal of Business Venturing, 12, 67-81. doi:10.1016/S0883-9026(96)00035-3
[98] Thalbourne, M. A., & Houran, J. (2000). Transliminality, the mental experience inventory and tolerance of ambiguity. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 853-863. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00143-9
[99] Thalbourne, M. A. (1994). Belief in the paranormal and its relationship to schizophrenia-relevant measures: A confirmatory study. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 33, 78-80. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8260.1994.tb01097.x
[100] Thalbourne, M. A., Dunbar, K. A., & Delin, P. S. (1995). An investigation into correlates of belief in the paranormal. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 89, 215-231.
[101] Van Hook, C. W., & Steele, C. (2002). Individual personality characteristics related to suggestibility. Psychological Reports, 91, 1007-1010. doi:10.2466/PR0.91.7.1007-1010
[102] Weisbrod, E. (2009). The role of affect and tolerance of ambiguity in ethical decision making. Advances in Accounting, Incorporating Advances in International Accounting, 25, 57-63.
[103] Westerberg, M., Singh, J., & Hackner, E. (1997). Does the CEO matter? Scandanavian Journal of Management, 13, 251-270. doi:10.1016/S0956-5221(97)00011-0
[104] Wittenberg, K. J., & Norcross, J. C. (2001). Practitioner perfectionism: Relationship to ambiguity tolerance and work satisfaction. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 1543-1550. doi:10.1002/jclp.1116
[105] Wolfradt, U., & Dorsh, S. (1995). Schizotypy and paranormal beliefs. A cross-cultural study between German and Mongolian pupils. In R. V. Quekelberghe (Ed.), Ethnopsychology and psychotherapy. Shamanistic healing rituals and modern therapies in comparison (pp. 228-245).
[106] Wolfradt, U., & Rademacher, J. (1999). Interpersonal intolerance of ambiguity as a clinical differential criterium. Zeitschrift for Differentielle und Diagnostiche Psychologie, 20, 10-20.
[107] Wolfradt, U., Oubaid, V., Straube, E. R., Bischoff, N., & Mischo, J. (1999). Thinking styles, schizotypal traits and anomalous experiences. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 821-830. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00031-8
[108] Yurtsever, G. (2001). Tolerance of ambiguity, information, and negotiation. Psychological Reports, 89, 57-64.
[109] Yurtsever, G. (2008). Negotiators’ profit predicted by cognitive reappraisal, suppression of emotions, misrepresentation of information, and tolerance of ambiguity. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 106, 590-608. doi:10.2466/pms.106.2.590-608

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.