Research Publication Title

Relationships Between Ambiguity Tolerance and Well-Structured vs. Ill-Structured Problems

Major

Psychology

Faculty Mentor(s)

Diana Young

Keywords

ambiguity tolerance, problem solving

Abstract

Problem Solving can be divided between two types of tasks: well-structured problems and ill-structured problems (Collins, Gookin, & Sibthorp, 2016). Well-structured problems (WSP) typically offer one solution or one pathway to the solution as well as clear rules and constraints that lead to the correct answer (e.g. simple math problems). Ill-structured problems (ISP) are lacking in one or more of these conditions. Given the differences between ISP and WSP, this study examined potential relationships between individuals' experiences when solving both types of problems and their general ambiguity tolerance. A person with a high tolerance for ambiguity is comfortable with uncertainty (McLain, 2009). On the contrary, those with a low tolerance for ambiguity are more likely to perceive ambiguous situations as threatening and are therefore less likely to be confident in negotiating such tasks. To examine the relations between ambiguity tolerance and individuals’ experiences while solving both ISP and WSP, participants completed various tangram puzzles in this quasi-experimental mixed research design. Participants reflected on their stress (Spielberger's State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) and enjoyment ("I would enjoy solving problems like this in the future.") immediately after completing each problem solving task. Participants also reported their general levels of ambiguity tolerance (Multiple Stimulus Types Ambiguity Tolerance Scale-II) and their general problem solving confidence (Problem Solving Confidence Questionnaire) at the end of the session. Participants with high ambiguity tolerance experienced lower anxiety than those with low ambiguity tolerance while completing both the ISP and WSP. However, those with higher ambiguity tolerance only feel significantly greater enjoyment when completing the ISP. Finally, we discovered that overall problem solving confidence mediates the relationship between ambiguity tolerance and anxiety during the WSP.

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Relationships Between Ambiguity Tolerance and Well-Structured vs. Ill-Structured Problems

Problem Solving can be divided between two types of tasks: well-structured problems and ill-structured problems (Collins, Gookin, & Sibthorp, 2016). Well-structured problems (WSP) typically offer one solution or one pathway to the solution as well as clear rules and constraints that lead to the correct answer (e.g. simple math problems). Ill-structured problems (ISP) are lacking in one or more of these conditions. Given the differences between ISP and WSP, this study examined potential relationships between individuals' experiences when solving both types of problems and their general ambiguity tolerance. A person with a high tolerance for ambiguity is comfortable with uncertainty (McLain, 2009). On the contrary, those with a low tolerance for ambiguity are more likely to perceive ambiguous situations as threatening and are therefore less likely to be confident in negotiating such tasks. To examine the relations between ambiguity tolerance and individuals’ experiences while solving both ISP and WSP, participants completed various tangram puzzles in this quasi-experimental mixed research design. Participants reflected on their stress (Spielberger's State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) and enjoyment ("I would enjoy solving problems like this in the future.") immediately after completing each problem solving task. Participants also reported their general levels of ambiguity tolerance (Multiple Stimulus Types Ambiguity Tolerance Scale-II) and their general problem solving confidence (Problem Solving Confidence Questionnaire) at the end of the session. Participants with high ambiguity tolerance experienced lower anxiety than those with low ambiguity tolerance while completing both the ISP and WSP. However, those with higher ambiguity tolerance only feel significantly greater enjoyment when completing the ISP. Finally, we discovered that overall problem solving confidence mediates the relationship between ambiguity tolerance and anxiety during the WSP.