Personality, Tolerance to Ambiguity and Prejudice

“I tell my students, if you ever become comfortable with your role as criminal defense lawyer, it’s time to quit. It should be a constant source of discomfort, because you’re dealing with incredible moral ambiguity, and you’ve been cast into a role which is not enviable.”

  • Alan Morton Dershowitz, American lawyer and political commentator.


How do we acquire prejudice? There are number of ways like socialisation, learning from your parents and close group members etc. One of them is your personality. It has been found that those who have low tolerance to ambiguity are prejudiced. Prejudice is your belief about certain group members or things, which is often unjustified.

Those who have very low tolerance to ambiguity are uncomfortable with change, they dislike uncertainty, instead they prefer status quo, atmosphere of certainty, specific rules and when everything is in black or white. For them prejudice is an excellent tool to oppose change and maintain status quo.


Woman who is financially independent and in leadership position, is something many people are not comfortable with ( ex. Khap Panchayat), prejudice is tool for them to keep things in control ex. they will always see to it that women are denied opportunities for growth ex. high education, access to modern technology, freedom to communicate etc.


We can extend this to corporate world, where tolerance to ambiguity is one of the competencies on which a manager is rated. Is the manager comfortable with uncertainty? Can he act based on limited information under uncertain conditions? Or he acts only when he has detailed information. Managers with low tolerance to ambiguity will oppose change and new ideas esp. the ones that they find difficult to understand. Prejudice comes as a handy tool to paint negative picture of change and stop any efforts towards change.


There are tests which reveal your tolerance to ambiguity ex. The Rydell-Rosen Tolerance of Ambiguity Test- sample statements from this test are given below.

  • If I were a doctor, I would prefer the uncertainties of a psychiatrist to the clear and definite work of someone like a surgeon or X-ray specialist.
  • Vague and impressionistic pictures really have little appeal for me.
  • If I were a scientist, it would bother me that my work would never be completed (because science will always make new discoveries).
  • Before an examination, I feel much less anxious if I know how many questions there will be.
  • The best part of working a jigsaw puzzle is putting in that last piece.
  • Sometimes I rather enjoy going against the rules and doing things I’m not supposed to do.

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