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Psychological need to reduce ambiguity?


In a new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Arne Roets and Alain Van Hiel of Ghent University in Belgium look at what psychological scientists have learned about prejudice....

People who are prejudiced feel a much stronger need to make quick and firm judgments and decisions in order to reduce ambiguity. "Of course, everyone has to make decisions, but some people really hate uncertainty and therefore quickly rely on the most obvious information, often the first information they come across, to reduce it" Roets says....

It's virtually impossible to change the basic way that people think.
I'm very curious about that last statement. At what point does the "basic way" that a person thinks develop? Is it nature or nurture, and in what proportions? If it's true that some people need to reduce ambiguity more than others, do we know what contributes to that? Is it possible to teach people to tolerate more ambiguity, or to tolerate ambiguity in more situations?

I'm obviously assuming here that tolerating ambiguity would generally be a good skill to have (although I think it might lead to problems in situations where immediate action is required). I really dislike prejudice and the damage it causes, so if training in tolerating ambiguity might help diminish it, I would be in favor.

I think I've learned to tolerate ambiguity a lot better over the years, so my personal experience makes me doubt the assertion that it's impossible to change the way people think. It's possible that being on antidepressants is what made the difference for me, though.

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/753788.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 28th, 2011 04:05 pm (UTC)
interestingly, to me, anyway, i have changed the way i think a LOT over the past decade. part of it has been about the experience of being forced not to 'have a life' in a 'normal' way, so self defining through work, play, education, even intelligence has had to go the way of all things. but HOW i have done it without going completely nuts has everything to do with mind training.

even in the early days of meditation when i didn't know what i was doing at all, or what you could do with it, or what it might really be for, i had a felt sense of change.

of course, mind training is a lot about letting ambiguity rest without jumping to a firm place, so in that sense this is exactly what you are talking about. i think meditation helps more than, say, CBT, but probably a combination would be the best starting ground.
Dec. 28th, 2011 08:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, meditation has had something to do with my learning to tolerate ambiguity better, although I'd be at a loss to say exactly how. Except that I do think the practice of deliberately moving attention around helps.

What I wonder is whether some people can tolerate meditation better than others. In the West at any rate, the people who practice it regularly are self-selecting.
Dec. 28th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
possibly. i have had some experience teaching it, and it's very weird seeing who ends up getting somewhere... like there are people who adapt quickly to it, and i suppose that is good because they get the positive feedback and feel like they are gaining something, then there are people who find it very hard, and it is amazing to see them going from really not there at all to just even knowing that they find it hard to be quiet. a much bigger leap.

also, the quality of teachers really varies. and i just don't think it's one of those things that is good to do entirely from a book - i did try! but live teaching, ideally in a group is best.
Dec. 29th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
I find that statement suspect as well. I've seen some people change the way they think - even push themselves to learn new social or communication skills. Of course, some people do that when they realize their current ways are ineffective.

Could you post something if you ever find any stories or articles online about ways to teach people to deal with ambiguity more? I'd be interested in that as well. Thanks!
Dec. 29th, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
Toleration of ambiguity is a HUGE factor in the way I look at, and deal with, the universe. To the best of my memory, I have always been that way, and have IMHO benefited greatly from it. I say that I don't believe in anything; the furthest I go is "This is what I think right now, based on observation, information, and intellectual assessment to date."

Supposedly F. Scott Fitzgerald said that “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.” My favorite biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan, has written about the ability to believe wholly in one's own viewpoint and yet to maintain the realization that one may be wrong.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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