FAQs

Common Questions about Tolerance of Ambiguity

There are often questions asked about Tolerance of Ambiguity (TOA) and its relationship to a range of other attributes.  Here are answers to some of these common questions:

Frequently Asked Questions

How does age relate to TOA?

Our research showed that as a person gets older, their Tolerance of Ambiguity also increases. For overall TOA total scores, Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) were significantly higher than both Gen X (born 1965 to 1980) and Gen Y (born 1981-2000). Gen X was significantly higher than Gen Y. The same pattern was found with Comfort with Ambiguity (i.e. Baby Boomers were most comfortable, followed by Gen X) and for Managing the Uncertainty. There were no generational differences in Desire for Challenging Work.

How does gender impact on TOA?

We found no significant gender differences on overall Tolerance of Ambiguity score or on any of the subscales.  Males and females are remarkably similar on all TOA scores.

How does a person’s education impact on their TOA?

We found that the more educated employees were, the higher they tended to score on TOA overall.  In particular, they tended to score higher on Desire for Challenging Work.

Is the industry in which someone works related to levels of TOA?

The only significant difference was in the Desire for Challenging Work Scale. The following industries tended to be high: Agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining, manufacturing. The following industries tended to be low: Construction, wholesale trade, public administration, safety and defense.

Are there any occupations where people have higher levels of TOA?

The only significant difference was in the Desire for Challenge Work Scale. Occupations highest in TOA were media and legal, whilst administration and clerical workers were lowest.

Are people in management/supervisory positions more likely to have a higher TOA?

Managers/supervisors have significantly lower average scores on the Comfort with Ambiguity scale and significantly higher scores for Desire for Challenge Work however there was no overall difference between managers and non-managers on TOA overall.

How is creativity related to TOA?

Results found a very strong relationship between TOA and creativity.

How is emotional intelligence related to TOA?

The study revealed that those with higher TOA also tended to display higher levels of emotional intelligence.

Does personality have an impact on TOA?

Personality is a complex issue.  It was measured using a 20-item widely recognised “Big 5” Factors of Personality scale.  The five dimensions are described below (Barrick & Mount, 1991):

  •  Extraversion: ambition and sociability.
  • Neuroticism: anxious, depressed, angry, embarrassed, emotional, worried and insecure.
  • Agreeableness: courteous, flexible, trusting, good-natured, cooperative, forgiving, soft-hearted, and tolerant.
  • Conscientiousness: dependability (being careful, thorough, responsible, organised and planned) as well as hardworking, achievement-oriented and persevering.
  • Openness to Experience: imaginative, cultured, curious, original, broad-minded, intelligent and artistically sensitive.

The results of this study found that TOA is positively related with personality traits of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience. It is negatively related with Neuroticism.

How does TOA impact on wellbeing?

Our results showed that those who were higher in TOA also tended to score higher on a measure of wellbeing.

An interesting note however; when a person has a job that is low in ambiguity and they themselves are high in TOA, their wellbeing is negatively impacted.  In contrast, people with low TOA do not suffer lower wellbeing when they have high ambiguity in their job. People with a high score on the Desire for Challenging Work Scale, suffer from low wellbeing when they do not have high ambiguity in their job.

What is the relationship between TOA and problem solving?

Results showed that people who scored higher in TOA also scored higher on a measure of strategic problem solving.

Does TOA have an impact on teamwork (participative decision making)?

Yes. The study demonstrated that employees who scored higher in TOA exhibited higher teamwork tendencies.

Is TOA related to leadership?

The study found that people who scored higher in TOA overall also scored higher on a measure of leadership. Specifically, individuals scored high in their Desire for Challenging Work and Managing the Uncertainty.

Source – O’Connor, Peter, Becker, Karen, & Bell, Sarah (2017) Embracing ambiguity in the workplace: TOLERANCE OF AMBIGUITY WORKPLACE SCALES Technical Manual. Queensland University of Technology, Australia