Uncertainty avoidance

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This article deals with the societal concept. For the similar concept that relates to individuals, see Ambiguity aversion.

In cross-cultural psychology, uncertainty avoidance is a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. It reflects the extent to which members of a society attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty. Uncertainty avoidance is one of five key qualities or dimensions measured by the researchers who developed the Hofstede model of cultural dimensions to quantify cultural differences across international lines and better understand why some ideas and business practices work better in some countries than in others. According to the theory's framework, the dimensions are only applicable to a society as a whole, not for each individual in the society.[1]

The uncertainty avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which a typical person in a society feels uncomfortable with a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Countries exhibiting strong uncertainty avoidance index (UAI) maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.

People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to be more rational. They try to minimize the occurrence of unknown and unusual circumstances and to proceed with careful changes step by step by planning and by implementing rules, laws and regulations. In contrast, low uncertainty avoidance cultures accept and feel comfortable in unstructured situations or changeable environments and try to have as few rules as possible. People in these cultures tend to be more pragmatic and more tolerant of change.

Key concepts[edit]

High uncertainty avoidance[edit]

There are many ways to detect if someone has a high amount of uncertainty avoidance. For example, the use of formality in interaction with others, dependence of formalized policies and procedures, apparent resistance of change are all characteristics of high uncertainty avoidance.[2]

Signs of high uncertainty avoidance[edit]

More physical and apparent ways to detect if someone has a high uncertainty avoidance is to check if they display the following descriptions or attributes. Do they follow a strict structure with rules and expertise, do they have high security (avoiding the unfamiliar). Also you can check if they are hectic, stressful or even emotional.

Low uncertainty avoidance[edit]

In contrast, people can also exhibit characteristics of low uncertainty avoidance. Unlike high UA, those with a low level use informality in interaction with others, they often rely on informal norms and behaviors in most matters. Also, they will show moderate resistance to change.

Signs of low uncertainty avoidance[edit]

To detect if someone has a low uncertainty avoidance keep a keen eye out for the following symptoms and hints. Such people often abide by only a few rules and live a life with little set structure, one that is loose and free; they will appear to be calm and collected. Also, they are interested most likely in entrepreneurship and business matters...


Those with high uncertainty avoidance prefer formal rules, strong social norms, and other ways of avoiding uncertainty or risk. The low uncertainty avoidance cultures rely more on informal, unstructured, or fluid roles and behaviors. The following characterizations were by the average perceived uncertainty avoidance based on the basic concepts of uncertainty avoidance like risky behaviors and personality.

High uncertainty avoidance countries[edit]

Some of the highest uncertainty avoidance countries include Greece, Japan, Guatemala, Turkey, and France.

Low uncertainty avoidance countries[edit]

Some of the lowest uncertainty avoidance countries include the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Singapore.[3]

Confusing concept[edit]

There are three problems that often cause confusion when it comes to properly understanding uncertainty avoidance:

First, everyone, irrespective where they come from, thinks that there are a lot of rules in their country. This is a very subjective viewpoint. Objectively there are vast differences in the amount of rules a country has. The second issue is that most rules that a culture has are not the formal rules that we think of at first. The maximum speed limit is a formal rule. How we meet and greet is not a formal rule, but it is a still a cultural rule. The last issue is that countries that score high on this dimension might not always follow the rules that need to be followed. There are simply too many rules, and the individual could choose the rule that fits his/her current situation best.[4]


Organizational behavior[edit]

Uncertainty avoidance is taught so managers can have an idea what sort of rules and practices are accepted and necessary in different cultures. For example cultures with high uncertainty avoidance usually do better with more laws and regulations and cultures with low uncertainty avoidance expect more space and more freedom. Managers study uncertainty avoidance to be better prepared to manage in an international setting.

International business[edit]

In the same way managers can face situations where they have to deal with employees of different cultures businessmen are expected to do business across different cultures and uncertainty avoidance can give insight to whether a culture expects you to strictly adhere to rules and traditions or whether you are allowed more freedom and familiarity.

International communication[edit]

Similar to international business, international communications requires one to bridge the gap between many cultures and adhering to social norms is an important part of international relations. And uncertainty avoidance applies to social norms in different cultures.

International negotiation[edit]

Uncertainty avoidance is important in international negotiations because negotiations relies on reaching an understanding and that can be made difficult if the other party expects you to follow different norms or if the other party is not comfortable with certain situations. Uncertainty avoidance also applies in many fields other than international business and the cultures associated with high or low uncertainty avoidance are also associated with specific traits.


In politics, cultures with high uncertainty avoidance citizens tend to have low interest in politics and citizen protests are repressed. This is because political unrest would bring about changes which the majority would not be comfortable with. There also tends to be many laws with laws being more specific as to avoid any uncertainty in the interpretation and to guide which behavior is acceptable. On the other side of the spectrum in cultures with low uncertainty avoidance citizens tend to be very interested in politics as it serves as a tool for change. Protests are accepted as another tool for change and laws are general.[5]


In cultures with high uncertainty avoidance, teachers are viewed as having all the answers and learning is structured. A lot of focus is emphasized on mathematics and science. In cultures with low uncertainty avoidance, teachers are not necessarily viewed as all knowing and the learning is open minded with less focus on facts.

Uncertainty avoidance also affects the family life, cultures with uncertainty avoidance tend to have rigid gender roles and cultures with low uncertainty avoidance have more flexible and more varied gender roles.[6]

Related research[edit]

One of the foremost researchers in this field studying the terms and concepts of uncertainty avoidance is Hofstede. His "cultural dimensions theory" studies different dimensions of national culture, including power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, long-term versus short-term orientation, and the concepts of uncertainty avoidance.

David S. Baker and Kerry D. Carson performed a study to evaluate uncertainty avoidance among field sales personnel. They selected 155 subjects from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Their research pointed towards individuals using both attachment and avoidance to lower their uncertainty avoidance in the workplace. People who were high on uncertainty avoidance and those low on it behaved differently. Sales personnel who were low on uncertainty avoidance saw no need to attach with their team or adapt to their environment, but those high on it used both avoidance and attachment to deal with situations. Those who reported moderate levels of uncertainty avoidance preferred to use adaptation rather than attachment when needed.

It is also believed that the uncertainty avoidance index (UAI) has a significant effect on consumers' acceptance of unfamiliar brands in the retail market. Brand familiarity, celebrity endorsement, and cultural differences all have an effect on determining an individual's UAI. Eliane Karsaklian has studied the effect UAI has on consumers' attitudes towards familiar and unfamiliar brands in different cultures (specifically American and French). She concludes that uncertainty avoidance has a deep role in shaping consumers' attitudes towards brands.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions". www.clearlycultural.com. Retrieved May 2015.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. ^ "The Hofstede Centre". Dimensions. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "Uncertainty Avoidance Index". www.clearlycultural.com. Retrieved May 2015.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. ^ https://culturematters.com/what-is-uncertainty-avoidance/
  5. ^ "Uncertainty Avoidance". Make Sense of Cross Cultural Communication. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Tidwell, Charles. "Hofstede: Uncertainty Avoidance". Retrieved 20 June 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hofstede, Geert (July 1978). "The Poverty of Management Control Philosophy". The Academy of Management Review. Academy of Management. 3 (3): 450–461. JSTOR 257536. doi:10.2307/257536. 
  • Hofstede, Geert (July 1967). "The Game of Budget Control: How to Live with Budgetary Standards and Yet be Motivated by Them". OR. Operational Research Society. 20 (3): 388–390. JSTOR 3008751. 
  • Hofstede, Geert (December 1983). "Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values". Administrative Science Quarterly. Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University. 28 (4): 625–629. JSTOR 2393017. doi:10.2307/2393017. 
  • Hofstede, Geert (March 1993). "Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind". Administrative Science Quarterly. Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University. 38 (1): 132–134. JSTOR 2393257. doi:10.2307/2393257. 
  • Hofstede, Geert (March 2002). "Dimensions Do Not Exist: A reply to Brendan McSweeney" (PDF). Human Relations. Sage Publications. 55 (11): 1355–1361. doi:10.1177/00187267025511004. 
  • Hofstede, Geert (2010). "The GLOBE debate: Back to relevance". Journal of International Business Studies. Sage Publications. 41 (8): 1339–46. SSRN 1697436Freely accessible. doi:10.1057/jibs.2010.31. 
  • S. Baker, David; D. Carson, Kerry (2012). "The Two Faces of Uncertainty Avoidance: Attachment and Adaptation". The Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management. 12 (2): 128–141. 
  • Dimoka, Angelika; Hong, Yili; Pavlou, Paul. "On product uncertainty in online markets: theory and evidence". MIS Quarterly. 36 (2): 395–426. 

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