Topic 4 Uncertainty

4.1. Definition

According to Olarte (2006), uncertainty is the insecurity or doubt about the outcome of a future event. Unlike risk, in uncertainty the probability of the possible outcome is not known. It is this lack of certain and clear knowledge that causes uncertainty about anything.

In short, the way in which the uncertain, the indeterminate, the unknown is assumed can cause damage to the emotional state, leading to the appearance of certain pathologies.

4.2. The role of intolerance of uncertainty in emotional problems

  • Intolerance to uncertainty is the result of a low threshold for perceiving ambiguity, i.e. a simple ambiguous situation can easily provoke an intense response or reaction of uncertainty. For instance, having to attend an unscheduled work meeting or having to answer to an unexpected doubt of a student in class.
  • Specifically, in an emergency situation, a person who is highly intolerant of uncertainty is likely to show anxious, depressive or overwhelmed responses or reactions, because he/she cannot tolerate a low degree of uncertainty in their life and any such situation can be very stressful and lead to consistent distress.
  • Equally, this can lead to emotional problems, as this intolerance to uncertainty is part of the essence of depression and anxiety. This may be due to an inability to come to terms with and accept the changes that occur (for example, having to wear a face mask and not being able to go outside at certain times).

4.3. Early and warning signs for seeking help


Some attitudes or actions can help us identify whether our tolerance for uncertainty is low, normal or high. People with an intolerance to uncertainty:

  • They seek excessive approval from others.
  • They double check. For instance, they seek to reassure themselves that their loved ones are well and call them several times to confirm this. Another example is those people who check several times the emails they sent or work done in order to identify mistakes made.
  • They refuse not to perform their duties, as they cannot bear to let someone else do their work for them because of this lack of confidence that they will do it well or as they want to do it.
  • They seek to stay informed in order to be sure about things. For example, they are constantly looking at the numbers of infections caused in times of pandemics.