What Is Uncertainty Avoidance?

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Uncertainty avoidance describes how cultural differences influence people's risk-taking preferences and comfort in unfamiliar situations. Discover how to measure uncertainty across cultures.


What Exactly Is Uncertainty Avoidance?

Uncertainty avoidance refers to a culture's or society's tolerance of unexpected and unstructured situations, which influences social norms, business practices, and human behavior. The Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) assesses how different countries perceive the future, the unknown, and unpredictability. The UAI is part of the cultural dimensions model developed by social scientist Geert Hofstede, which also examines nations' individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, power distance, and long-term orientation.


Examples of Uncertainty Avoidance

The characteristics of uncertainty avoidance differ, resulting in cultural diversity. Geert Hofstede's cultural avoidance dimension has three tiers:

High uncertainty avoidance: High uncertainty avoidance cultures are strict in their behavior and have a low tolerance for change. Success requires predictability, and these cultures prioritize systems over innovation. According to Hofstede, people who avoid uncertainty the most live in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Guatemala, Portugal, Mexico, Japan, and South Korea.

Moderate uncertainty avoidance: People in this class have varying levels of uncertainty avoidance, with people respecting and utilizing systems while welcoming new ideas and questioning norms. People with moderate UAI have a combination of high and low uncertainty avoidances and are mostly from the United States and Canada.

Low uncertainty avoidance: Cultures with low uncertainty avoidance are more at ease in unpredictable situations. They need as few rules as possible and can deal with change through adaptability, pragmaticism, and comfort. Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Singapore, and Jamaica have lower uncertainty avoidance cultures.

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