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Ambiguity tolerance is the ability to perceive ambiguity in information and behavior in a neutral and open way.

Ambiguity tolerance is an important issue in personality development and education. In psychology and in management, levels of tolerance of ambiguity are correlated with creativity,[1] risk aversion, psychological resilience, lifestyle,[2] orientation towards diversity (cross-cultural communication, intercultural competence), and leadership style.[3]

Wilkinson's Modes of Leadership is largely based on ambiguity tolerance. Mode one leaders have the least tolerance to ambiguity with mode four leaders enjoying and preferring to work in ambiguous situations. In part this is due to what Wilkinson calls 'emotional resilience'.

The converse, ambiguity intolerance,[4][5] which was introduced in The Authoritarian Personality in 1950,[6] was defined in 1975 as a “tendency to perceive or interpret information marked by vague, incomplete, fragmented, multiple, probable, unstructured, uncertain, inconsistent, contrary, contradictory, or unclear meanings as actual or potential sources of psychological discomfort or threat.”


  1. ^ Kirton, M.J. Adaption-Innovation In the Context of Diversity and Change. Oxford: Routledge, 2004.
  2. ^ Apter & Desselles (2001) in Motivational Styles in Everyday Life: A Guide to Reversal Theory. Washington: APA Books, 2001.
  3. ^ Wilkinson, D. The Ambiguity Advantage: What great leaders are great at. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
  4. ^ Norton, Rw (Dec 1975). "Measurement of ambiguity tolerance". Journal of personality assessment 39 (6): 607–19. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa3906_11. PMID 16367289.  
  5. ^ Furnham, Adrian (1995). "Tolerance of ambiguity: A review of the concept, its measurement and applications". Current Psychology 14: 179. doi:10.1007/BF02686907.  
  6. ^ The Authoritarian Personality, Studies in Prejudice Series, Volume 1. Co-authors: Theodor Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson and Nevitt Sanford. New York: Harper & Row, 1950. W. W. Norton & Company paperback reprint edition, 1993: ISBN 0-393-31112-0.


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