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Tolerance of ambiguity : a context-specific construct.

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This thesis provides some evidence of variability in cognitive style, and refutes the notion of it being a stable, generalisable personality trait. The study is statistical in nature and uses the cognitive style construct tolerance/intolerance of ambiguity as the main dependent variable. The main independent variables are context, content, ideological conservatism and ideological commitment. The theoretical context for this thesis is the long.,.standing debate about the nature of cognitive style within the field of social psychological research. The four major theories constituting this context are the theory of authoritarianism, the theory of extremism, context theory and value pluralism theory. However, these appear to be inadequate to explain the contextual variability of value conflict. Hence an attempt has been made to develop a new theory, tentatively named the contextual value conflict theory. The founding hypothesis of contextual value conflict theory is that the different characteristics of the manipulated contexts would present subjects with different levels of contextual value conflict, thus resulting in the expression of different levels of tolerance of ambiguity. The assumption was that higher conflict leads to higher attitudinal ambiguity tolerance and lower conflict to lower attitudinal ambiguity tolerance. The quantitative part of the research is constituted by two studies in which the Attitudinal Ambiguity Tolerance (AAT) Scale (Durrheim, 1995) was used to measure cross-context and crosscontent variations in tolerancelintolerance of ambiguity. This was done by first administering the scale across two different contexts with a fixed university student sample. This procedure was repeated in a follow-up study in two different contexts with a fixed church sample. The AAT scale was used in conjunction with 3 scales measuring ideological conservatism/ideological belief, and two scales measuring ideological commitment. These were the Subtle Racism scale (Duckitt, 1991), the Conservatism scale (Durrheim & Foster, 1997) and the Right-Wing Authoritarian Scale (Duckitt, 1990). Scales measuring ideological commitment included the Religiosity Scale (Rohrbaugh & Jessor, 1975) and the Political Interest scale (an adaptation of the one used by Sidanius, 1988b). Results have indicated that it is important to distinguish between the various dimensions of ideological conservatism as the shape and direction of the relationship with attitudinal ambiguity tolerance depend on these dimensions. Although contextual value conflict has managed to better account for the vast variability in patterns of associations than any of the four other theories mentioned above, it too has its limitations. It was found that conflict caused by context is difficult to control and pre-define, and future studies need to address this shortfall by finding ways of determining more efficiently the level of contextual value conflict inherent in different situations. A recommendation for further research is that an attempt be made to develop an instrument for quantifying the level of contextual value conflict present in a particular situation. These shortfalls resulted in the major limitation of this study, i.e. the post hoc nature of explanations offered for the results. Thus, although contextual value conflict theory was not confirmed without contradiction, this thesis did uncover a degree of support for it. Due to the small sample size in both studies, but in particular that of the church study it is important, however, to treat the findings with caution. In conclusion, although the support for contextual value conflict was not conclusive, some confIrmation was found. What was most strongly evidenced though, was that tolerance of ambiguity cannot be seen as a stable, generalisable personality trait, but should rather be seen as performance in context that is fluid in nature.


Thesis (M.A.) - University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2000.


Cognitive Styles., Personality And Cognition., Ambiguity., Cognitive Dissonance., Theses--Psychology.