Tolerance of uncertainty: Conceptual analysis, integrative model, and implications for healthcare

Social Science & Medicine
Volume 180, Pages 1-196 (May 2017)

Review article
Tolerance of uncertainty: Conceptual analysis, integrative model, and implications for healthcare
Review Article
Pages 62-75
Marij A. Hillen, Caitlin M. Gutheil, Tania D. Strout, Ellen M.A. Smets, Paul K.J. Han
Uncertainty tolerance (UT) is an important, well-studied phenomenon in health care and many other important domains of life, yet its conceptualization and measurement by researchers in various disciplines have varied substantially and its essential nature remains unclear.
The objectives of this study were to: 1) analyze the meaning and logical coherence of UT as conceptualized by developers of UT measures, and 2) develop an integrative conceptual model to guide future empirical research regarding the nature, causes, and effects of UT.
A narrative review and conceptual analysis of 18 existing measures of Uncertainty and Ambiguity Tolerance was conducted, focusing on how measure developers in various fields have defined both the “uncertainty” and “tolerance” components of UT—both explicitly through their writings and implicitly through the items constituting their measures.
Both explicit and implicit conceptual definitions of uncertainty and tolerance vary substantially and are often poorly and inconsistently specified. A logically coherent, unified understanding or theoretical model of UT is lacking. To address these gaps, we propose a new integrative definition and multidimensional conceptual model that construes UT as the set of negative and positive psychological responses—cognitive, emotional, and behavioral—provoked by the conscious awareness of ignorance about particular aspects of the world. This model synthesizes insights from various disciplines and provides an organizing framework for future research. We discuss how this model can facilitate further empirical and theoretical research to better measure and understand the nature, determinants, and outcomes of UT in health care and other domains of life.
Uncertainty tolerance is an important and complex phenomenon requiring more precise and consistent definition. An integrative definition and conceptual model, intended as a tentative and flexible point of departure for future research, adds needed breadth, specificity, and precision to efforts to conceptualize and measure UT.