A little uncertainty goes a long way: state and trait differences in uncertainty interact to increase information seeking but also increase worry

Health Commun. 2009 Apr;24(3):228-38. doi: 10.1080/10410230902804125.


This study examines the effect of an interaction between intolerance of uncertainty (IU) and situational uncertainty (SU) on worry due to uncertainty and on information seeking. Health providers may benefit from knowing when communicating uncertain information is beneficial. The study was a 2 (IU condition: high vs. low) x 2 (SU condition: high vs. low) experimental design resulting in four conditions to which university students (N = 153) were randomly assigned. IU was manipulated through a linguistic manipulation of responses to an IU questionnaire coupled with written false feedback. SU was manipulated by modifying the information participants read about a fictitious infection. Individuals in the high IU and high SU condition sought the most information and worried most due to uncertainty compared to people in the low IU and low SU condition, who sought the least information and worried least. Findings suggest that high IU may increase positive health behaviors such as screening intentions when individuals are faced with an uncertain health threat, but that it also increases worries due to that uncertainty. Providing opportunities for discussing one's emotional response to uncertainty and providing instrumental support for managing uncertainty (e.g., booking the follow-up appointment) is essential when communicating uncertain information.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Consumer Health Information / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Uncertainty*