Life is full of paradoxes and uncertainty – good people who do bad things, and questions with no right or wrong answer. But the human mind abhors doubt and contradictions, which provoke an uncomfortable state of “cognitive dissonance“. In turn, this motivates us to see the world in neat, black and white terms. For example, we’ll decide the good person must really have been bad all along, or conversely that the bad thing they did wasn’t really too bad after all. But a pair of researchers in Israel point out that some of us are better than others at coping with incongruence and doubt than others – an ability they call “aintegration” for which they’ve concocted a new questionnaire. The full version, together with background theory, is published in the Journal of Adult Development.
If you want to hear what the researchers found out about who copes best with uncertainty, skip past the two example items coming up next.
Jacob Lomranz and Yael Benyamini’s test begins: This questionnaire explores the way people think and feel about various attitudes. In the following pages you will be presented with attitudes held by different people. Please read each attitudinal position carefully and use the ratings scale to state your general and personal reaction as to such attitudes.
The test then features 11 items similar to these two:
EXAMPLE ITEM 1 There are people who will avoid making decisions under conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity. In contrast, other people would make decisions even under conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity.
(a) In general, to what extent do you think it is possible to make decisions under
conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity?
1,2,3,4, or 5 (choose 1 to 5 where 1= not at all and 5=to a very great extent)
(b) Assuming someone does make decisions under conditions of uncertainty and
ambiguity, to what extent do you think this would cause her/him discomfort?
(c) To what extent do you make decisions under conditions of uncertainty and
(d) Assuming you made a decision under conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity, to
what extent would that cause you discomfort?
EXAMPLE ITEM 2 There is an opinion that in every relationship between couples there are contradictory feelings; on the one hand, the individual benefits from the relationship (for example, love) and on the other hand loses from the relationship (for example, loss of independence).
– Some people claim that even when the couple has contradictory feelings about their relationship, a good relationship can still exist.
– In contrast, there are those who claim that when there are contradictory feelings about the couple relationship, it is impossible to maintain a good relationship.
(a) In general, to what extent do you think it is possible to have a good relationship when a couple has contradictory feelings about that relationship?
1234, or 5 (choose 1 to 5 where 1= not at all and 5=to a very great extent)
(b) Assuming someone persists with a relationship about which they have contradictory feelings, to what extent do you think this would cause her/him discomfort?
(c) To what extent do you have contradictory feelings about your relationship(s)?
(d) Assuming you have contradictory feelings, to what extent would that cause you discomfort?
Higher scores for (a) and (c) questions and lower scores for (b) and (d) questions mean that you have higher aintegration – that is, that you are better able to cope with uncertainty and contradictions.
To road test their questionnaire, the researchers gave the full version with 11 items to hundreds of people across three studies and they found that it had high levels of “internal reliability” – that is, people who scored high for aintegration on one item tended to do so on the others.
Lomranz and Benyamini also found some evidence that older people (middle-aged and up), divorcees, the highly educated and the less religious tended to score higher on aintegration. So too did people who had experienced more positive events in life, and those who saw their negative experiences in more complex terms, as having both good and bad elements. Moreover, higher scorers on aintegration reported experiencing fewer symptoms of trauma after negative events in life.
This last finding raises the possibility that aintegration may grant resilience to hardship, although longer-term research is needed to test this (an alternative possibility is that finding a way to cope with trauma promotes aintegration).
Higher scores on aintegration also tended to correlate negatively with the established psychological construct of “need for structure”.
The researchers said their paper was just a “first step” in establishing the validity of aintegration and that the concept could help inform future research especially with people “who dwell in states of transitions or ‘betweenness’, for example, struggling with national identities, cultural adjustment or conflicting values.”
Lomranz, J., & Benyamini, Y. (2015). The Ability to Live with Incongruence: Aintegration—The Concept and Its Operationalization Journal of Adult Development, 23 (2), 79-92 DOI: 10.1007/s10804-015-9223-4
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.
Our free weekly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!