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Creativity Module 8:

Tolerance for Ambiguity

Working with Laptops

Background Information:

It’s difficult to explain what tolerance forambiguity is. It has to do with a person’s ability to cope and adapt as things around them change. Tolerance for ambiguity is important because it can help people work effectively in areas of uncertainty. One thing we know about our students’future is that we need to give them strategies to navigate a world where things change at a fast pace. One way we can do this is by helping them develop the affective skill of tolerating ambiguity.Links between ambiguity and creativity were investigated by Zenasni et al (2008).They were able to show that a person with a high level of ambiguity tolerance is likely to exhibit creative traits. Ambiguity tolerance (AT) refers to the way an individual (or group) perceives and processes information about ambiguous situations when confronted by an array of unfamiliar, complex, or incongruent clues. The person with low AT experiences stress, reacts prematurely, and avoids ambiguous stimuli. At the other extreme of the scale, however, a person with high tolerance for ambiguity perceives ambiguous situations/stimuli as desirable, challenging, and interesting and neither denies nor distorts their complexity of incongruity (Furnham & Ribchester, 1995). AT can be defined as the degree to which an individual is comfortable with uncertainty, unpredictability, conflicting directions, and multiple demands and is manifest in a person's ability to operate effectively in an uncertain environment. AT involves being comfortable with the unknown.

Characteristics of People with Tolerance for Ambiguity

Not bound by Categorization

Categorization is defined as sorting out objects or ideas based on their similarities and differences (Cohen& Lefebvre, 2005). A person not bound by this means that they can resort and regroup ideas depending on the situation. They also avoid a habit called functional fixedness (Duncker, 1945),which is only seeing ideas or objects from how they were grouped from the start.


Comfortable with Uncertainty

Ambiguity and uncertainty usually go hand-in-hand. While ambiguity focuses on how something does not have a clear meaning, uncertainty is defined as “not knowing something well” or “something that is not constant” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). It would be hard to make a decision when one does not know what goes into making such a decision. Being tolerable to uncertainty means that they are willing to change that uncertainty to certainty while relying on intuition and previous knowledge.


A low fear response to the unfamiliar or change

People that have a low tolerance for ambiguity may have a hard time making a decision. Some reactions in this situation would include “freezing up” or “being indecisive” This can happen when exposed to unfamiliar, changing situations or even when presented with new information that challenges an old belief.


Acceptance of Novelty

Novelty is a synonym to originality. People with tolerance for ambiguity also tolerate things that are out of the ordinary. Skaggs (n.d.) says that disregarding these outlier ideas can decrease one’s chances of getting great ideas and their potential.


Tolerance for Fluctuating Stimuli

Stimuli is a fancier term for various factors that can affect a situation. When new technologies, methods and processes are changing due to the world changing at a fast pace –we need to equip students with the brain power and emotional flexibility to be able to stop what they are doing and do it another way to move with the times. One day, students might be sitting in a classroom –next they might need to learn a new program on the computer just to finish the work they did by hand at school (wink, wink —covid pandemic)



Engage the learner in role play where they need to become comfortable in situations where the short term and long term future is unknown such as the following:

i.What questions will be on the test?

ii.Will my grandmother visit us for the (e.g., upcoming) holiday?

iii.Will my new teacher like me?

iv.Will I become class president

Have students create scenarios that involve tolerating ambiguity similar to those in activity 1

Voices from the field entry



Observe results of the Voices from the Field Activity and Tolerance for Ambiguity module.

Administer the AT Scale

(Budner, 1962) (Source:


Items from Budner’s (1962) original scale:

  1. An expert who doesn’t come up with a definite answer probably doesn’t know too much.

  2. I would like to live in a foreign country for a while.

  3. There is really no such thing as a problem that can’t be solved.

  4. People who fit their lives to a schedule probably miss most of the joy of living.

  5. A good job is one where what is to be done and how it is to be done are always clear.

  6. It is more fun to tackle a complicated problem than to solve a simple one.

  7. In the long run it is possible to getmore done by tackling small, simple problems rather than large and complicated ones.

  8. Often the most interesting and stimulating people are those who don’t mind being different and original.

  9. What we are used to is always preferable to what is unfamiliar.

  10. People who insist upon a yes or no answer just don’t know how complicated things really are.

  11. A person who leads an even, regular life in which few surprises or unexpected happenings arise really has a lot to be grateful for.

  12. Many of our most important decisions are based upon insufficient information.

  13. I like parties where I know most of the people more than ones where all or most of the people are complete strangers.

  14. Teachers or supervisors who hand out vague assignments givepeople a chance to show initiative and originality.

  15. The sooner we all acquire similar values and ideals the better.

  16. A good teacher is one who makes you wonder about your way of looking at things.


Note: All items are scored on a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from ‘‘1 = Strongly Disagree’’ to ‘‘5 = Strongly Agree’’ and a ‘‘3 = Neither Agree nor Disagree’’ option in the middle. (This scoring pattern is inverted for items followed by [Reverse Coded], above.). The higher the score, the greater the level of Tolerance for Ambiguity

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