The effect of psychological stress and tolerance of ambiguity on stereotypic attributions

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Abstract

Recent research on the relationship between cognition and affect suggests the prediction that psychological stress encourages stereotyping. Yet the empirical evidence regarding this proposition is inconclusive. This study examined the effect of stress on the perception of illusory correlations, which comprise a particular manifestation of stereotypic attributions, and the moderating role of tolerance of ambiguity. It was predicted, specifically, that the effect of stress on stereotyping will be more pronounced in persons who have a low tolerance of ambiguity than in persons tolerating ambiguity, who generally experience less stress. An Illusory Correlation Inventory and a Tolerance of Ambiguity scale were administered to a group of 46 Airforce cadets, during a particularly stressful phase of flight training, and to a comparable group of 39 cadets, during a relatively relaxed period in the course of training. As expected, stress heightened the tendency to stereotype. In addition, the response of participants whose tolerance of ambiguity is low was more stereotypic than the response of those who tolerate ambiguity. However, the combined effect of the two independent variables was additive rather than interactive. Contrary to prediction, high tolerance of ambiguity did not attenuate the effect of stress on stereotyping.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-410
Number of pages14
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
Volume12
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 1999

Keywords

  • Psychological stress
  • Stereotyping
  • Tolerance of ambiguity

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