Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Ethical Beliefs and Tolerance of Ambiguity

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Ethical Beliefs and Tolerance of Ambiguity

Article excerpt

This study examined the relationship between ethical beliefs and tolerance of ambiguity. Two dimensions of ethical belief were examined: ethical relativism and idealism. Findings reported here are based on a questionnaire survey of 145 exporting and importing managers of Turkey. The results show a positive correlation between ethical relativism and tolerance of ambiguity, and a negative correlation between idealism and tolerance of ambiguity.

Keywords: Ethical beliefs, tolerance of ambiguity, business, idealism, relativism.

The business world has been facing rapidly-changing environmental conditions (Jacobson, 1992; Williams, Han & Quails, 1998). Confronted with rapid changes, ambiguity becomes a prominent subject in literature on decision-making (Kahneman, Slovic & Twersky, 1982;Ogilvie, 1998 ;Lipshitz& Strauss, 1997; March &Olsen, 1976). An ambiguous situation has been defined as "...one which cannot be adequately structured or categorized by an individual because of the lack of sufficient cues" (Budner, p.30). Tolerance for ambiguity, then, is defined as the extent to which an individual feels threatened by an ambiguous situation.

Frenkel-Brunswik (1949) first conceptualized tolerance -intolerance of ambiguity as a personality variable. Then, a number of studies investigated the relationship between ambiguity and personality dimensions. Some studies investigated the relationship between tolerance of ambiguity and adoption, innovation, openness to experience and risk (e.g., Feather, 1971 ; Ghosh & Ray, 1997; Kohn, 1974; Trapnell, 1994). Other studies investigated the relationship between tolerance of ambiguity and beliefs (e.g. Hunt & Miller, 1968; Shaffer & Hendrick, 1974; Moore, Ward & Katz, 1998).

"Concepts or beliefs about desirable end states or behaviors that transcend specific situations, guide selection or evaluation and events and are ordered by relative importance" (Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987). For example, individuals with closed cognitive beliefs justify their beliefs by reporting confirming reasons and evidence and ignoring contradictory reasons and evidence (Davies, 1998). They may have difficulty revising their existing beliefs systems to accommodate an ambiguous situation, since they have striven to avoid inconsistency in their attitude and belief systems and react to inconsistent information by minimizing or ignoring it (Hunt & Miller, 1968).

Understanding the manager's belief is critical in the business world since the business philosophy depends, to a large degree, upon the beliefs held by management. Particularly when business situations are ambiguous, managers tend to rely on their belief systems to make decisions (Schilit, 1988). Ethical beliefs may also be an important determinant in tolerance for ambiguity. Therefore, this study attempts to investigate the relationship between ethical beliefs and tolerance for ambiguity. The results of this study may provide useful insights for ethical understanding which subsequently may result in more effective management.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ETHICAL BELIEFS AND TOLERANCE OF AMBIGUITY

Budner stated that there could be three types of ambiguous situation "a completely new situation in which there are no familiar cues, a complex situation in which there are a great number of cues to be taken into account, and a contradictory situation in which different elements or cues suggest different structure" (Budner, 1962 p. 30). When individuals face the three types of ambiguous situation they may have difficulty using rational-logical decision-making, since ambiguity owns imperfect and inconsistent information, and obscure causal relations in the environment of unclear history and interpersonal relationship (March & Olsen, 1976). In such a case, the "rational" versus "nonrational belief is critical in the decision of the individual (Smithson, 1993). In the belief system, ethical beliefs occupy an important place. …

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