Academic journal article Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management

The Two Faces of Uncertainty Avoidance: Attachment and Adaptation

Academic journal article Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management

The Two Faces of Uncertainty Avoidance: Attachment and Adaptation

Article excerpt


The authors used a sample of 155 field sales personnel from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand to examine attachment and adaptation as two ways of addressing individual uncertainty avoidance. Results suggest that both attachment and adaptation are used to reduce uncertainty avoidance in the workplace. Individuals low on uncertainty avoidance had no need to attach with their group or adapt to their environment. Those high on uncertainty avoidance used both techniques to deal with risk. Individuals reporting moderate levels of uncertainty avoidance primarily used adaptation rather than attachment to deal with risk.


Geert Hostede's (1980) theoretical and empirical work on value development within national cultures has served as an important foundation for this field of international study (Triandis, 2004). Hofstede (1980) originally proposed a framework that consisted of four dimensions: uncertainty avoidance, individualism/collectivism, power distance, masculinity/femininity. He later added a fifth dimension, time orientation (Hofstede & Bond, 1988).

Of particular interest in this study is the macro dimension of uncertainty avoidance measured at an individual level. Cultures high on uncertainty avoidance are risk adverse. Individuals in these cultures prefer stability in their lives and careers. They want their environment to be predictable. To foster compliance among their members, cultures high in uncertainty avoidance structure behavior through such mechanisms as laws, religion or customs. Vague situations are avoided in high uncertainty avoidance cultures, and group norms and rules reduce ambiguity. Individuals tend to attach themselves to the dominant cultural group and comply with its expectations (Hofstede, 1980).

However, there has been a suggestion in organizational research that rather than the more passive attachment to the dominant group, some cultures actively try to reduce uncertainty by controlling their future environment. For example, Schneider and DeMeyer (1991) suggested that managers in high uncertainty avoidance cultures are likely to engage in proactive behaviors in an attempt to adapt to a dynamic environment. Geletkanycz (1997) also found that executives who are high on uncertainty avoidance in their cultural background seek strategic solutions that respond to dynamic environments. That is, they engage in adaptation as a way of reduce risk. Because of this alternative way of adapting to uncertainty, Geletkanycz (1997) called for further research to examine the issue that not all individuals react to risk by adhering to the norm but rather adjust to position themselves in a safer position in the future.

Research has also identified that individuals high on uncertainty avoidance make choices for uncertain outcomes that involve gains (Ladbury & Hinz, 2009). For example, individuals can be induced to volunteer for treatment in a randomly assigned process if they are offered monetary compensation for showing up (Harrison, Lau & Rutstrom, 2009). An individual's income can also have an influence on uncertainty avoidance and outcomes. For example, Yang-Ming (2008) found that as income increases, individuals high on uncertainty avoidance were more willing to take risks.

The purpose of our research is to explore the use of both attachment and adaptation as ways of handling uncertainty. We are examining this at an individual level because uncertainty avoidance differs among individuals within similar cultures (Dwyer, Mesak, & Hsu, 2005). An individual within a culture does not have to share the same viewpoint as the dominant majority and, in fact, there can be a considerable individual variability (Cross & Madson, 1997). At the individual level, cultural values and dimensions can vary from high to low (Triandis, 1995). Following established examples of other researchers (e.g., Clugston, Howell, & Dorfman, 2000; Dorfman & Howell, 1988; Vitell, Paolillo & Thomas, 2003), this study utilizes the macro concept of uncertainty avoidance analyzed at the individual level. …

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