2013. Vol.4, No.9, 717-728
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 717
Tolerance of Ambiguity: A Review of the Recent Literature
Adrian Furnham1,2, Joseph Marks3
1Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology,
University College London, London, UK
2Norwegian Business School, Olso, Norway
3School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
Received July 10th, 2013; revised August 8th, 2013; accepted August 31st, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Adrian Furnham, Joseph Marks. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
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 Avoid-
ance 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 question-
naires design to measure TA. Recommendations for the use of these tests in research are made. The rea-
sons for progress and lack of progress in this field are highlighted.
Keywords: Tolerance; Ambiguity; Review
The concept of tolerance of ambiguity (TA), which was
originally developed by Frenkel-Brunswik (1948), has attracted
a great deal of research over the last 60 years (Merrotsy, 2013).
Her paper, that related TA to authoritarianism, has since been
cited nearly 10,000 times (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levin-
son, & Sanford, 1950). TA has generally been conceived as a
personality variable or individual difference factor (Budner,
1962) and has been used in a variety of applied fields, including
clinical psychology (Lachance et al., 1999), medicine (Geller et
al., 1993) and organisational behaviour (Judge et al. 1999). This
paper attempts to update review by Furnham (1994) and Furn-
ham and Ribchester (1995) on the conceptions, correlates and
measurement of TA.
History of the Concept
Frenkel-Brunswick (1949) defined TA as an “emotional and
perceptual personality variable”. She was influenced by the
work of Jaensch (1938) whose work was to influence many
others (Eysenck, 1954). She concluded: “In the present paper,
an attempt was made to discuss denial of emotional ambiva-
lence and intolerance of cognitive ambiguity as but different
aspects of what may be a fairly coherent characteristic. An
underlying emotional conflict between glorification and hostil-
ity in the attitude towards parents, sex and one’s own social
identity previously demonstrated in children inclined toward
rigid social dichotomizing as revealed by ethnic prejudice is
taken as the impetus for experiments in memory, perception,
and related topics, devised to test tolerance of ambiguity on an
emotionally more neutral ground. There is some indication of a
prevalence of premature reduction of ambiguous cognitive
patterns to certainty in the prejudiced subjects, as revealed by a
clinging to the familiar, or by a superimposition of one or many
distorting cliches upon stimuli which are more manageable in a
more simple and stereotyped fashion. There is some indication
that in the case of distinct intolerance of emotional ambivalence
one may as a rule be able to locate at least some aspects of in-
tolerance of cognitive ambiguity although these may often by
more apparent on a higher level than that of perception paper.”
(p. 140).
Frenkel-Brunswick (1951) set out many behavioural features
of TA including resistance to reversal of apparent fluctuating
stimuli; the early selection and maintenance of one solution in a
perceptually ambiguous situation; inability to allow for the
possibility of good and bad traits in the same person; accep-
tance of attitude statements representing a rigid; black-white
view of life; seeking for certainty; a rigid dichotomising into
fixed categories; premature closure, and remaining closed ex-
cept to familiar characteristics of stimuli. Thus TA was con-
ceived as a salient, multi-faceted predictive variable in a variety
of behavioural settings.
Frenkel-Brunswick’s (1949, 1951) definition of the concept
was generated by case study material gleaned from interviews
of persons high or low on this construct. She argued that TA
generalises to the various aspects of emotional and cognitive
functioning of the individual, characterising cognitive style,
belief and attitude systems, interpersonal and social functioning
and problem solving behaviour. She also related TA to other
personality variables, predicting a positive relationship with the
authoritarian family of personality traits. Since then the topic
has attracted considerable research and remains a well-used
variable to this day (Anderson & Schwartz, 1992; Merrotsy,
Early Studies
Many of the early studies in this area were psychometric
studies that attempted to construct a valid, self-report, measure
of TA. Budner (1962) defined TA as “the tendency to perceive
ambiguous situations as desirable” and set about one of the first
measures in the field. Budner’s (1962) paper has been cited
over 1000 times. McLain (1993) included contextual informa-
tion, defining TA as “a range, from rejection to attraction, of
reactions to stimuli perceived as unfamiliar, complex, dynami-
cally uncertain or subject to multiple conflicting interpreta-
tions” (p. 184).
There has expectedly been debate on the dimensionality of
the TA concept. Durrheim and Foster (1997) propose that TA is
a context-specific construct, not a personality trait, and others
advocate the use of contextualised measures (Herman, Stevens,
Bird, Mendenhall, & Oddou, 2010).
TA is however usually measured on a one-dimensional scale:
those who are intolerant of ambiguity are described as having a
tendency to resort to black-and-white solutions, and character-
ised by rapid and overconfident judgement, often at the neglect
of reality (Frenkel-Brunswik, 1949). At the other end of the
scale, ambiguous situations are perceived as desirable, chal-
lenging and interesting, usually by individuals who score highly
on an Openness to Experience scale (Caligiuri, Jacobs, & Farr,
2000) and show both sensation-seeking and risk-taking behav-
iour (McLain, 1993; Lauriola, Levin, & Hart, 2007; McLain,
Generally for those with low TA there is an aversive reaction
to ambiguous situations because the lack of information makes
it difficult to assess risk and correctly make a decision. These
situations are perceived as a threat and source of discomfort.
Reactions to the perceived threat are stress, avoidance, delay,
suppression, or denial (Budner, 1962; MacDonald, 1970; McLain,
1993; Furnham & Ribchester, 1995).
In more recent work researchers have altered their focus to-
wards examining how TA influences the perception of situa-
tions and decision making (Yurtsever, 2001, 2008; Van Hook
& Steele, 2002; McLain, 2009). Instead it is thought that con-
structs that are defined by an absence of information (e.g.
risk-taking behaviour) are more relevant and are more useful
validating TA measures.
The TA research literature appears to have three different
features: there have been work on similar concepts to TA which
is discussed below; there have been an increase of experimental
over correlational studies; and a more of an interest in the ef-
fects of TA in the work environment.
Conceptual and Definitional Issues
Other similar concepts have been described which are clearly
very similar to TA like Uncertainty Avoidance and Risk-Taking
Propensity. Hofstede (1984) recognised uncertainty avoidance
as a characteristic of cultures and developed an uncertainty
avoidance index. The distribution of the personality variable
“uncertainty avoidance” has been studied in different societies,
thus making it a “sociological variable”, where uncertainty
avoidance was defined as “the extent to which people feel
threatened by ambiguous situations, and have created beliefs
and institutions that try to avoid these” (p. 419). Most research-
ers interested in uncertainty avoidance are cross-cultural or
organisational psychologists who are interested in comparing
groups of individuals, rather than seeing it as an individual
preference or trait. As a consequence, these researchers seem
not to have developed many self-report measures of uncertainty
There is also a clinical literature on Tolerance of Uncertainty
(TU) which has been conceived of as a cognitive disposition
that confers risk of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (Birrell,
Meares, Wilkinson & Freeston, 2011). Various self-report mea-
sures have been developed which are often validated against
measures of anxiety, depression and worry (Carleton, Norton &
Asmundson, 2007). TU is associated with worries and negative
expectations of the future and is therefore often involved in
research of anxiety disorders (Ladouceur et al., 2000). TU is
usually measured using the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale
(Freeston et al., 1994), which is made up of 27 items. Its inter-
nal consistency is high, α = 0.91 and Dugas et al. (1997) re-
ported a test-retest reliability of 0.78 over a five week period.
The scale is used as a clinical tool in the diagnosis of GAD
(Freeston et al., 1994). It continues to be examined for its psy-
chometric properties (Buhr & Dugas, 2002; Fergus & Wu,
Green and Roger (2001) argued that there is a clear relation-
ship between TA and TU but that the former is used primarily
in cognitive studies on decision-making, memory and percep-
tion “all of which are oriented towards cognitive processes
rather than stress and emotion” (p. 521). They developed a
three factor scale two factors of which (emotional uncertainty
and cognitive uncertainty) were modestly correlated (respec-
tively: r = .18 and r = .37, N = 204). In their review of the fac-
tor analytic studies of the best known scale in the area, Birrell
et al (2011) found evidence of two factors: Desire for Predict-
ability and Active Engagement in Seeking Certainty; and Pa-
ralysis of Cognition and Cognition in the Face of Uncertainty.
The TA, TU and uncertainty avoidance concepts have been
used interchangeably (Stewart, Carland, Carland, Watson, &
Sweo, 2003; McLain, 1993; Majid & Pragasam, 1997; Grenier,
Barrette, & Ladouceur, 2005) but efforts have been made to
show that the concepts are not identical. Ellsberg (1961) de-
fined ambiguity as a lack of information that is necessary to
understand a situation or to identify all of the possible out-
comes. Krohne (1989, 1993) concluded that whilst ambiguity is
a property of the stimulus, uncertainty is the emotional state
that is provoked by it. Grenier et al. (2005) argued that the main
difference between TA and TU is the time frame referred to.
TA describes a trait that focuses on an individual’s reaction to
an ambiguous situation in the present. TU, on the other hand,
describes a future-orientated trait, where the individual is re-
acting to the uncertainty of the future. This discrimination
partly explains why the TA and TU literature tend to have sep-
arate areas of focus. TA is used in the cognitive and experi-
mental literature and TU in the clinical literature.
Risk-taking propensity is also very similar to TA (McLain,
2009). Lauriola, Levin and Hart (2007) argue that there is a
stable dispositional trait that underlies risky decision making
and decision making under ambiguity in experimental tasks.
Ellsberg (1961) distinguished decisions under ambiguity from
risky decision making in terms of knowledge of outcomes and
probabilities: Behavioural decision scientists usually define
ambiguous decision making as a situation in which there is an
unknown distribution of outcome probabilities for at least one
of the options. Whereas the probabilities are known in risky
decision-making, but outcomes are not.
However it remains true that despite work on these subtly
different and related concepts there is still no very clear opera-
tional definition of TA at the facet level or a clear differentia-
tion between the manifestations and correlates of TA. Nor has
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
there been any strong theoretical development in the area. Both
may account for the steady, but uninspiring, developments in
the area.
Correlational Studies
There have been many attempts to look at the concurrent,
convergent and discriminant validity of TA with studies corre-
lating scores with other established measures. Most of the work
in this area remains correlational.
The relationships between TA and other personality variables
have been supported by correlations in self-report question-
naires and has been used to validate scales of TA. Budner’s
(1962) 16-item scale positively correlated with authoritarianism
and this was used as evidence of construct validity. Mac-
Donald’s (1970) AT-20 correlated with Rokeach’s dogmatism
scale and the Walk’s A Scale correlated with ethnocentrism
(O’Connor, 1952).
Correlations also exist with other forms of measurement of
TA. Million (1957) measure TA by the autokinetic phenome-
non and found a relationship with authoritarianism. However
despite some evidence for this relationship, research has not
always proved conclusive. For example, Feather (1969) found
that the Budner scale’s measurement of TA did not relate to
We set about an extensive search for all TA and TU papers
published since 1995. Many simply mentioned the concepts,
and we decided to review only those which had actually used a
measure of TA or TU in the research. We then decided to tabu-
late the results showing the range of papers published, what
measures they used and what they found. These are shown in
Table 1 where 30 studies are reviewed.
Because details of the studies are provided in the table the
results will not be considered in detail. Rather, four observa-
tions from this research effort can be summarised. First, they
use a wide range of measures of TA, not all of which correlate
very highly with each other. Second, many have modest popu-
lation groups, though a number have populations over 200.
Third, the number of variables correlated with measures of TA
were extremely varied from art preference, though identity
conflict to thinking style. There seemed no thematic or pro-
grammatic effort on any research group in this area. Correla-
tions tended to be modest. Fourth, most studies had their hy-
potheses confirmed showing how TA was conceptually related
to a variety of other measures and behaviours.
Experimental Work
There have also been one or two experimental studies in this
area. However they have been the exception rather than the rule.
For instance Lauriola and Levin (2001) designed an ecologi-
cally valid experiment that compared attitudes towards ambigu-
ity and risk. They showed that differences in attitude towards
ambiguity are consistent with attitudes towards risk, in that a
preference for the ambiguous predicts a preference for a risky
options. However on further inspection, the relationship only
proved significant when participants were avoiding a loss in the
Risky Decision-making Task as opposed to seeking a gain. It
was concluded that the extra processing in the “loss” condition
meant that attitudes towards ambiguity were more important in
the decision-making procedure.
Lauriola, Levin and Hart (2007) repeated this experiment and
found that the Ambiguity-Probability Tradeoff task negatively
correlated with a TA self-report questionnaire (MSTAT-I) (r =
.15; p < 0.05) as well as optimism scores on the Life Orienta-
tion Test-Revised, and positively correlated with regret-based
decision style. A high score on this task predicted subsequent
risky choices in a follow up study a month later. It was also
predictive of later ambiguous choices in a different domain.
These findings support the existence of a stable dispositional
trait underlying reactions to risk and ambiguity.
The Measurement of TA
Given that the TA construct has been around for so long, it is
no surprise that a number of measures exist (see Table 2). To
date we have found 8 self-report measures. However we ac-
knowledge other, unpublished, tests are recorded (Saunders,
1955) or those where little psychometric work was attempted
(Eysenck, 1954). Eysenck’s early measure was a simple 14-
item true-false test but appeared to have good concurrent valid-
ity. He reported on a non-verbal pictorial intolerance of ambi-
guity test which was 8 drawings of a dog turning slowly and by
degrees into a cat. The predicted and confirmed hypothesis was
that rigid people would continue to cling to the original “dog”
concept long after it had turned into a cat.
Most of the tests of TA are however self-report question-
naires. One of the best known and well used scales in this area
was developed 30 years ago by Budner (1962) who devised a
16-item (half positive, half negative) scale which was described
in great detail. He argued that each item had to tap at least one
postulated indicator of perceived threat, namely phenomenol-
ogical submissions or denial, operative submission or denial.
Items referred to one of either of three types of ambiguous
situations: novelty, complexity and insolubility. The scale was
validated on 17 different, mainly student, populations and
shown to be free of acquiescent and social desirability response
tendencies. Although the test correlation was good (0.85 over 2
months) the internal alpha was poor (0.49). Various forms of
validity were examined including concurrent and construct.
Budner’s scale was correlated with rankings of individuals
on the basis of short biographies, peer ratings, and measures of
conventionality, belief in divine power, attendence at religious
services, dogmatism about religious beliefs and attitudes to
censorship. The total scale also correlated positively with au-
thoritarianism, idealism of and submission to parents, Machia-
vellianism, career choice in medical students etc. Not all the
correlations were significant and most were in the 0.20 to 0.40
range but they were sufficiently consistent to suggest that the
measure had content, concurrent and construct validity. The
wording of items in this scale have been criticised for their
failure to represent the appropriate stimulus, or even suggest
ambiguity at all (McLain, 2009). The items are also argued to
be confounded by reference to specific situation, which may
elicit misleading reactions. Budner saw TA as a “non-specific”
trait that does not lead to specific behaviours or evaluations that
are not manifestations of TA itself.
The Budner scale has perhaps attracted most attention and is
used most frequently in TA research. Rydell and Rosen (1966)
and Rydell (1966) reported on the development and validation
of another scale. The scale consisted of 16 true-false items
which had been constructed on a “a-priori basis” (Rydell &
Rosen, 1966: p. 151) with relatively limited validation. Test-
etest reliabilities over a month with 41 students yielded an r = r
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 719
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Table 1.
Table showing TA measures.
Authors N TA measure Outcome measure r/p values Findings
Thalbourne et al. (2000) 100 AT-20 Transliminality r = 0.02 Transliminality did not correlate with TA.
Litman, (2010) 372 AT-20
Dispositional interest (I)-type
curiosity; Deprivation (D)-type
curiosity; Anxiety; Anger;
r = 0.36; 0.15;
0.02; 0.03; 0.15
AT-20 scale was positively correlated with I-type
curiosity and negatively correlated to D-type
curiosity and anger.
Weisbrod, (2009) 157 AT-20 Ethical decision making p = 0.018, < 0.01
Low TA predicts less willingness to violate
ethical norms in both personal and organizational
settings. High TA subjects were more likely to
violate ethical norms whilst experiencing high
negative affect.
Hazen, Overstreet,
Jones-Farmer, Field,
Multiple Stimulus
Types Ambiguity
Tolerance Scale-II
Willingness to pay for
remanufactured goods p < 0.001; p < 0.001
Consumers’ TA positively correlated with their
willingness to pay for remanufactured products;
TA positively correlated with perceived quality
of remanufactured products.
Bardi, Guerra,
Sharadeh, & Ramdeny,
Tolerance Scale
(UTS; Dalbert, 1999)
Openness r = 0.42, p< 0.01;
r = 0.25, p < 0.01
Intolerance of ambiguity negatively correlated
with openness.
Bardi, Guerra, Sharadeh, &
Tolerance Scale
(UTS; Dalbert, 1999)
Challenge appraisal r = 0.12, p < 0.05Intolerance of ambiguity negatively correlated
with challenge appraisal.
Life satisfaction
r = 0.14, p< 0.05;
r = 0.15, p < 0.05
Intolerance of ambiguity negatively correlated
with life satisfaction.
Positive affect
r = 0.24, p< 0.01;
r = 0.18, p <0.01
Intolerance of ambiguity negatively correlated
with positive affect.
Threat appraisal r = 0.30, p < 0.01Intolerance of ambiguity positively correlated
with threat appraisal.
Negative affect r = 0.33, p < 0.01Intolerance of ambiguity positively correlated
with negative affect.
Anxiety r = 0.38, p < 0.01Intolerance of ambiguity positively correlated
with anxiety.
Teoh & Foo, (1997) 70 AT-20 Entrepreneurial performancep < 0.07 TA moderates the relationship between role
conflict and performance measures.
Teoh & Foo, (1997) 70 AT-21 Entrepreneurial performancep < 0.01 High TA correlates with better performance.
Lal & Hassel, (1998) 64 Budner’s TIA
Perceived usefulness of
information characteristics of
management accounting
systems (MAS)
p < 0.05
Managers with high TA perceive
non-conventional MAS as more useful when
perceived environmental uncertainty is high than
those with low TA.
Perceived usefulness of
information in accounting
systems (MAS)
p < 0.01 TA has a stronger effect on MAS in large firms
than small firms.
Firoozabadi, & Bahredar,
(2006) 240 Budner’s TIA Medical students’
demographics p < 0.05 Men scored lower than women on the TA scale.
Medical speciality preferencen/a There was no difference in TA level between
medical speciality preferences.
Tapanes, Smith, & White,
(2009) 66 Hofstede’s Value
Perceived effect of dissonance
in online learning
p = 0.002;
p = 0.015
Learners from low TA cultures felt it was
important for their instructors to take into act
their cultural background and that they be
informed about differences between
their culture and that of the course.
Perceived effect of dissonance
in online learning p = 0.007 High TA cultures reported being more motivated
to learn whilst low TA cultures were intimated.
Perceived effect of dissonance
in online learning p = 0.047 High TA cultures had higher participation rates
(controlling for language).
Perceived effect of dissonance
in online learning
p = 0.168; p= 0.05;
p = 0.216; p = 0.212
No significant differences regarding their
instructor’s awareness, consideration culture,
silenced experiences and feelings of
alienation for the TA dimension.
Chong, (1998) 63 AT-20
Managerial perforance
(via management accounting
systems (MAS) information)
TA and MAS,
r = 0.381 MAS X
TA: p = 0.012
TA is negatively correlated with MAS, which has
a direct effect on managerial perfomance.
Hartmann & Slapnicar,
(2012) 178 AT-20
Justice perceptions with the use
of outcome measures r = 0.318, p < 0.001Managers with low TA judge an evaluation
process more fairly.
Swami, Stieger, Pietschnig
& Voracek, (2010) 240 MAT-50 Preference for surrealist art
r = 0.22, p< 0.05;
r = 0.22, p < 0.05;
r = 0.25, p < 0.001
TA positively correlates with a liking for
surrealist art (TA subscales: Philosophy,
Problem-solving, Art Forms).
Preference for surrealist filmsr = 0.19, p< 0.05;
r = 0.18, p < 0.05
TA positively correlates with a liking for
surrealist films (TA subscales: Problem-solving,
Art Forms).
Rong & Grover, (2009) 126 MAT-50 Technological knowledge
renewal effectiveness (t = 2.32, p = 0.01)TA has a positive impact on technological
knowledge renewal effectiveness.
Iyer, McBride, & Reckers,
(2012) 78 AT-20
Capital investment proposal
(with/without a decision aid)
F = 5.09, p = 0.027Low TA Ss applied decision aids when making a
decision on an ambiguous investment.
Buhr & Dugas, (2006) 197 Budner’s TIA Intolerance of uncertainty r = 0.42, p <0.001TA has a positive correlation with tolerance of
Worry r = 0.27, p < 0.001TA has a negative relationship with worry.
Self-oriented perfectionismr = 0.19, p < 0.01TA has a negative relationship with self-oriented
perfectionism r = 0.35, p < 0.001TA has a negative relationship with
socially-prescribed perfectionism.
Other-oriented perfectionismr = 0.15, p < 0.05TA has a negative relationship with
other-oriented perfectionism.
Perceived mastery r = -0.14, p < 0.05TA has a positive relationship with perceived
Perceived constraints r = 0.32, p < 0.001TA has a negative relationship with perceived
Age r = 0.24, p < 0.01TA increases with age.
Wolfradt, Oubaid, Straube,
Bischoff & Mischo, (1999) 374
The Scale of
Intolerance of
Ambiguity (SIA) by
Wolfradt and
Schizotypal personality
r = 0.27, p < 0.001;
r = 0.25, p < 0.001;
r = 0.43, p < 0.001
TA has a negative relationship with Schizotypal
personality disorder (cognitive-perceptual,
interpersonal and disorganizational deficits).
Information processing
(need for cognition) r = -0.19, p < 0.001TA has a positive relationship with this type of
information processing (need for cognition).
General Self-Efficacy r = 0.31, p < 0.001TA has a positive relationship with general
Furnham & Avison, (1997) 62 AT-20 Painting preferences r = 0.31, p < 0.05TA is significantly related positively to surrealist
(fewer elements) paintings.
Ironside, Jefferies &
Martin, (2009) n/a
The Multiple
Stimulus Types
Ambiguity Tolerance
Scale-I (MSTAT-I)
Achievement of patient safety
competencies p > 0.05 TA did not correlate with nurses’ patients safety
Leong & Ward, (2000) 106 MSTAT-I Identity conflict r = 0.32, p < 0.005High TA is a significant predictor of identity in
Chinese sojourners in Singapore.
Le, Haller, Langer,
75 Budner’s TIA Mindfulness r = 0.35, p < 0.01TA positively correlated with mindfulness.
Thinking style
r = 0.54, p< 0.01;
r = 0.43, p < 0.01
TA positively correlated with thinking style
(mean; concrete).
Affect r = 0.01; r = 0.13TA did not correlate with pre-experimental
(positive or negative) affect.
Westerberg, Singh &
Häckner, (1997) 139 Modified from Lorsch
and Morse Firms’ financial performanceb = 0.26, p < 0.01CEOs with high TA were related to firms with
high financial performance.
Firms’ market performanceb = 0.26, p < 0.01CEOs with high TA were related to firms with
high market performance.
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Firms’ market orientation p > 0.05 CEOs’ TA did not correlate with firms that
emphasize planning orientation.
Firms’ planning orientationp > 0.05 CEOs’ TA did not correlate with firms that
emphasize market orientation.
Richardson, Jain & Dick,
(1996) 582 Budner’s TIA Private brand proneness p > 0.05 TA did not correlate with private brand
Value for money perceptions o
private label brands. β = 0.117, p < 0.05 TA positively correlates with money perceptions
(value for money).
Reliance on extrinsic cues in
quality assessment. β = 0.251, p < 0.05TA had a negative relationship with reliance on
extrinsic cues in quality assessment.
Altinay, Madanoglu,
Daniele & Lashley, (2012) 205
Acedo and Jones
scale: modified from
Lorsch and Morse
Intention to start a businessr = 0.274, p > 0.05There was no relationship between TA and
intention to start a business.
Risk-taking propensity r = 0.318, p = 0.426There was a positive relationship between
tolerance of ambiguity and risk taking propensity.
Caligiuri, Tarique, (2012) 641 Modified Gupta and
Govindarajan (1984)
Non-work cross-cultural
experiences r = 0.28, p < 0.01TA correlated positively with non-work
cross-cultural experiences.
cross-cultural experiences r = 0.06, p < 0.01TA correlated positively with “organization-
initiated” cross cultural experiences.
Dynamic cross-cultural
competencies R2 = 0.26, p < 0.01TA correlated positively with dynamic
cross-cultural competencies.
Neuroticism r = 0.07, p > 0.05TA did not correlate with neuroticism.
Extraversion r = 0.37, p < 0.01TA had a strong, positive correlation with
Agreeableness r = 0.19, p < 0.05TA correlated negatively with agreeableness.
Openness r = 0.29, p < 0.01TA had a strong, positive correlation with
Conscientiousness r = 0.00, p > 0.05TA did not correlate with conscientiousness.
Neill &Rose, (2007) 167 Modified MSTAT-I Equivocality t = 0.27, p < 0.01An organisations TA correlates with
strategic flexibility t = 0.21, p < 0.01An organizations TA is positively correlated with
market-focused strategic flexibility.
Rajagopal & Hamouz,
(2009) 111 Budner’s TIA
Willingness to try (A factor of
the Food Attitude Behavior
Openness Scale (FABOS))
r = 0.332, p < 0.01TA positively correlated with the factor
“willingness to try”.
Seeking novelty (FABOS) r = 0.447, p < 0.01TA positively correlated with the factor
“seeking novelty”.
Enjoy novelty (FABOS) r = 0.212, p > 0.01TA did not correlate with the “enjoy novelty”
Conditional openess (FABOS)r = 0.098, p > 0.01TA did not correlate with the “conditional
openness” factor.
Internationalization decisionsp < 0.05 CEOs’ international orientation did not relate to
Risk associated with
internationalization p < 0.001 CEOs with high TA perceived lower levels of
Proactive disposition to
internationalization p < 0.05 TA did not correlate with a proactive disposition
to internationalization.
Carter & Hall, (2008) 279 Budner’s TIA Observational Test of
Ecological Sensitivity p < 0.05
TA and openness to experience gave a combined
score to assess cognitive openess, which
correlated significantly positively with the
Observational Test of Ecological Sensitivity.
Gurel, Altinay, & Daniele,
(2010) 206
Acedo and Jones
(2007) = modified
Lorsch and Morse
Entrepreneurial intention p > 0.05 TA was not associated with intentions to start a
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
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Table 2.
Table showing measures of the TA scales.
Author Name of scale N No. of items Dimensions
Herman, Stevens, Bird, Mendenhall, Oddou,
(2010) The tolerance of ambiguity scale 2351 12 (1) 4
McLain (2009) Multiple stimulus types ambiguity tolerance scale-II
(MSTAT-II) 870 13 (1) 3
Buhr & Dugas (2002) Intolerance of ambiguity scale 276 27 4
Lange & Houran (1999) Rasch model AT-20 110 18 1
Durrheim & Foster (1996) Attitudinal ambiguity tolerance scale 421 45 4
McLain (1993) Multiple stimulus types ambiguity tolerance scale-I 148 22 1
Norton (1975) MAT 50 1496 61 8
MacDonald (1970) AT-20 789 20 1
Budner (1962) 16 item scale 947 16 1
O’Connor (1952) Walk Unpublished8 1
0.71 and with 105 students over 2 months r = 0.57 but there
was no evidence of the test’s internal reliability. The test was in
part validated with the use of semantic differential ratings of
contradictory and non-contradictory adjective-noun concept
combinations (Rydell, 1966). MacDonald (1970) however,
attempted some psychometric evaluation of the Rydell-Rosen
scale but added 4 extra items. This larger scale had a test-retest
reliability of 0.63 over 6 months and was cross-validated on
nearly 800 undergraduates. The test was correlated with
Rokeach’s dogmatism scale, the Gough-Sanford Rigidity scale
and church attendence but not social desirability. The split-half
reliability was also satisfactory at 0.73, and MacDonald noted
that it“shows promise of being a useful instrument for the
measurement and further investigation of ambiguity tolerance”
(p. 797).
Lange and Houran (1999) praised the AT-20 scale for its
convergent validity and internal consistency, but argued that an
Item Response Theory (ITR) framework have more appropriate
scaling properties for use in structural modeling.
In particular, they propose the Rasch (1960) model because
“Rasch scaling requires no iterative estimation procedures”
(p.468). The Rasch model AT-20 (Lange & Houran, 1999) only
differentiates itself from the AT-20 from a scaling point of
view—there are no additional items but two were removed. It
provides no new information for evidence of validity. Results
showed that the positive item-rest point biserial correlations
provide evidence of the scale’s uni-dimensionality, correlations
were consistent with the local independence assumption, the
discrimination parameter values show the data fits with the
Rasch model and the person fit to the Rasch model was satis-
factory. The sample size was large enough to yield an adequate
item separation value (3.72), which indicates the estimated item
locations have a KR-20 reliability index of 0.93. The internal
consistency was 0.68 (KR-20), which is slightly lower than the
value reported by MacDonald (1970) but still just about satis-
factory considering the number of items. The Rasch approach is
said to differ to the classical test theory with respect to estimat-
ing tolerance of ambiguity and assessing the error of measure-
ment associated with such estimates.
In the mid-1970s Norton (1975) argued that the extant pa-
per-and-pencil measures of TA were “flawed by low internal
reliability and the absence of adequate validity evidence” (p.
607). This he believed was in part due to ambiguities associated
with the term ambiguous which was used in 8 different ways to
describe: multiple meanings; vagueness, incompleteness, frag-
mentation; as a probability; unstructured; lack of information;
uncertainty; inconsistencies, contradiction, contraries and un-
clearness. He therefore developed a 50-item “measure” (MAT-
50) which was tested seven times to develop high reliability
which was r = 0.38 (Kuder-Richardson) and with a test-retest
reliability of 0.86 after 10 - 12 weeks. He also attempted to
determine 3 types of validity: content validity (through content
analysis and faking studies), criterion-related (through correla-
tions with measures of dogmatism and rigidity) and construct
validity (through measures of willingness to volunteer for an
ambiguous study; aesthetic judgement; a content analysis of
verbal behaviour and behavioural dramatisation). As predicted,
high TA Ss tended to volunteer more for undefined experiments,
to use different aesthetic judgements and be more dramatic in
problem-solving groups.
Norton (1975) ended his paper suggesting seven research
questions the scale may be used to investigate most of which
had been tested before but not when using a self-report TA
measure: what is the cognitive process during an ambiguous
situation; how can the information theorist account for ambigu-
ity; is it possible to use the measure of TA to help identify
therapeutic problems; do groups prefer leaders who are TA;
how is trusting behaviour related to TA: to what degree is TA
culture bound; what is the function of TA in a conflict resolu-
tion situation.
Nearly 40 years ago Lorsch and Morse (1974) argued that
managers who often face ambiguous decisions have to be more
willing to take risks. They developed a 7-item scale with the
aim to test members of organizations, specifically managers’
TA. Therefore this scale has been prominent mainly in business
journals and has been modified a number of times in order to fit
more appropriately with researchers’ needs (Westerberg, Singh
& Häckner, 1997; Acedo & Jones, 2007; Gurel, Altinay &
Daniele, 2010; Caligiuri & Tarique, 2012). Among others,
Gupta and Govindarajan (1984) reduced the number of items to
4, and reported an internal reliability of 0.57.
Motivated by the psychometric weakness of widely used
measures of TA, McLain (1993) developed a new 22-item
measure called the Multiple Stimulus Types Ambiguity Toler-
ance (MSTAT). McLain attempted to redefine TA so that the
three conceptual perspectives of TA could be separately defined
and integrated. These three concepts are: TA as a source of
threat from novel, complex and insoluble stimuli (Budner,
1962), ambiguity as term for second order probability (Ellsberg,
1961), and TA as a link to the authoritarianism family (Fren-
kel-Brunswik, 1949). McLain defined TA as “a range, from
rejection to attraction, of reactions to stimuli perceived as un-
familiar, complex, dynamically uncertain, or subject to multiple
conflicting interpretations” (p. 184). A factor analysis of 148
respondents supported a uni-dimensional model, a general tol-
erance for ambiguity. The scale was found to have good inter-
nal consistency, α = 0.86. Evidence of the scale’s concurrent
validity for the scale comes from significant positive correla-
tions with other TA scales (Budner’s (1962) 16-item scale,
Storey and Aldag’s (1983) 8-item scale and MacDonald’s
(1970) 20-item scale as well as significantly correlating with
willingness to take risks, receptivity to change and a negative
correlation with dogmatism. The adequate psychometric prop-
erties and refined construct of this scale make it one of the more
popular measures in recent times.
In 2009, McLain refined the MSTAT scale. The MSTAT-II
is a 13-item scale derived from the original 22 items. The re-
duced number of items means that respondents use less cogni-
tive resources completing the questionnaire. Items were re-
moved from the MSTAT-I on the basis of feedback from re-
searchers and respondents who used the questionnaire. The
remaining items were kept if they added to the overall construct,
correlated with the scale, and did not confound it through con-
text-specificity or incomprehensibility. The data was collected
from a sample of university students and firefighter-emergency
medical technicians (n = 870). The internal consistency reli-
ability was 0.83, which is good despite being slightly lower
than the MSTAT-I. Three factors were identified by a factor
analysis, however a scree plot showed a distinct first factor only.
This factor corresponded to ambiguity tolerance in general and
confirmatory factor analysis suggested the one-dimensional
theoretical model is appropriate.
McLain found that MSTAT-II correlated significantly and
positively with MacDonald’s AT-20, sensation seeking, per-
ceived risk, perceived uncertainty, which provides evidence for
concurrent validity. The scale correlated negatively with so-
matic tension and social desirability. The correlation with Bud-
ner’s scale however, was not significant. McLain argued that
this finding may be due to the Budner scale’s low reliability
and poor item wording. He later found that the Budner scores
had a multidimensional structure and therefore should not be
seen to undermine the strength of the MSTAT-II. Despite these
arguments, it should be noted that the MSTAT-I did signifi-
cantly correlate with the Budner scale and it may be possible
that because items have been removed, the MSTAT-II is less
comprehensive. Therefore this scale is recommended over the
MSTAT-I when space is limited or when participants could
potentially become cognitively overloaded.
Durrheim and Foster (1997) did not conceive TA as psycho-
logical trait, but as a content specific construct. This is consis-
tent with Frenkel-Brunswick’s (1949) original construct of TA
as an “attitudinal variable”, which was not assumed to general-
ise across different social objects. Among others, Durrheim and
Foster (1997) proposed that intercorrelations of TA measures
are “spurious relationships between shared attitudinal scale
content” (p. 741) and that the relationship is a methodological
artefact. This accounts for the failure to correlate different ex-
perimental procedures (e.g. Million, 1957). They argue that
factor analysis (e.g. Furnham, 1994) show TA to be multidi-
mensional and conclude that there is little evidence for regard-
ing TA as a stable and generalised personality trait.
Durrheim and Foster (1997), who are social, not personality,
psychologists, developed the Attitudinal Ambiguity Tolerance
scale (AAT) in response to these objections, which is based on
the uni-polar scaling procedure that was originated by Kaplan
(1972) and subsequently used by Scott and colleagues to assess
ambivalence (Scott, 1966, 1969; Scott, Osgood, & Peterson,
1979). The scale uses a wide range of authority figures as scale
items and participants are asked to express their degree of am-
bivalence. This scale measures evaluative performance and is
therefore thought to model Frenkel-Brunswick’s original de-
scription of prejudiced and non-prejudiced children. The scale
was found to have an adequate internal reliability (α = 0.81)
and test-retest reliability (r = 0.66). A factor analysis revealed
four factors, which suggests a multi-dimensional structure and
supports the original hypothesis. Evidence for concurrent valid-
ity for this scale comes from a significant positive correlation
with the Ambivalence scale that the AAT was based on.
The AAT scale was not significantly correlated with Bud-
ner’s scale, however this is inconclusive because not only is the
Budner scale thought to lack reliability and validity, but there
are theoretical underlying differences between the two scales.
Criterion groups were also used to validate the AAT scale be-
cause of the political context in South Africa at the time of
testing. Although Durrheim and Foster’s criticisms of the TA
concept seem valid, they have largely been ignored by con-
temporary research for three reasons. Firstly, the focus of the
TA concept has shifted away from prejudice and authoritarian-
ism and moved towards reactions in response to insufficient
information. Secondly, the psychometric qualities of TA scales
have increased. Third, empirical research supports a one-di-
mensional theoretical model (McLain, 2009; Benjamin et al.
1996; Furnham & Ribchester, 1995), which describes TA as
“unitary yet multifaceted” (Herman et al., 2010: p. 59).
It should be noted that Wolfradt and Rademacher (1999) de-
veloped and validated a scale for interpersonal TA. This scale
was designed for use as a clinical tool. The scale is not widely
used however, despite good internal reliability (Cronbach’s
alpha = 0.86; Wolfradt, Oubaid, Straube, Bischoff, & Mischo,
Herman et al. (2010) proposed a new measure of TA that
aimed to better understand its link to cross-cultural phenomena,
improved conceptual dimensionality and psychometric evi-
dence. They attributed the disagreement in construct dimen-
sionality to the diversity of research contexts, arguing that
overly general items may not be suitable for all the diverse
concepts of TA. The MSTAT-II may suffer from over-gener-
alisation, although the author admitted this himself (McLain,
Instead, Herman et al. (2010) reasoned that context-depend-
ent measures should be developed in areas that may have prob-
lems if they use the generalised conception. Their measure
focuses on cross-cultural contexts. They used Budner’s (1962)
conceptualisation and measure of TA (because it has been so
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
influential despite its flaws) as a basis on which they performed
an exploratory factor analysis, assessment of internal consis-
tency and item-total correlations, then added and removed
items to improve the measure (n = 2351). The new items were
designed to fit with prior conceptions of TA (Budner, 1962;
McLain, 1993) and relevant to a cross-cultural context. They
found the overall internal consistency to be acceptable (α =
0.73). Factor analysis distinguished 4 factors, but the measure
was found to fit a one-dimensional theoretical framework be-
cause the internal consistencies of the individual dimensions
were not high enough to support multidimensionality. The four
factors were; valuing diverse others, change, challenging per-
spectives and unfamiliarity. Valuing diverse others has not
appeared in other recent conceptualisation (McLain, 1993, 2009;
Furnham, 1994), which the authors relate to the interpersonal
nature of cross-cultural settings. This 12-item scale is a useful
tool for measuring TA in cross-cultural contexts and it may
revolutionise the measurement of TA, starting a trend in the
development of context-specific measures.
It should be noted that Wolfradt and Rademacher (1999) de-
veloped and validated a scale for interpersonal TA. This scale
was designed for use as a clinical tool. The scale is not widely
used however, despite good internal reliability (Cronbach’s
alpha = 0.86; Wolfradt, Oubaid, Straube, Bischoff, & Mischo,
The TA concept has gone through changes since its concep-
tion in 1948, when it was synonymous with authoritarianism
and prejudice. The focus has now shifted to reflect the contem-
porary definition of ambiguity (Ellsberg, 1962). Researchers
have ducked the questions about where TA sits in Big Five
Factor space. Is TA a second or third order facet or does it be-
long outside the big five a little like Locus of Control or other
“cognitive personality variables”?
The papers in this area still lack sophistication. For instance
there appear to be no studies that have attempted to determine
the heritability of TA. This would help differentiate between
the social psychological conception of TA as a set of attitudes
vs the differential psychology conception of a stable, perhaps
even biologically based trait. Nor have the tests been frequently
subjected to structural equation modelling to determine both the
facets or factors of TA as well as its determinants. However,
the interest among clinicians in the TU concept may suggest
that it is closely linked positively to Neuroticism and negatively
to Openness-to-Experience.
The interest in TA seems to have shifted from differential
and social psychologist to clinical and organisational psycholo-
gists who see it as measure of adaptation and healthy function-
ing. There yet remains a need to do some psychometric house-
keeping as done by Furnham (1994) to look at the relationship
between the existent measures, but perhaps more importantly to
integrate TA measures and theory to modern psychometric
methods as well as cognitive neuro-science.
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