Seeing the forest and not the trees: When impact uncertainty heightens causal complexity

Evelyn W. M. Au
Published Online:
08 Oct 2015
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 52 Issue 3

Additional Options

This study attempts to isolate the effects of experiencing uncertainty on people's cognitive processes. I argue that people can believe that their actions affect the outcome (i.e. outcome control), but still face uncertainty regarding the extent to which actions will make a difference (i.e. impact uncertainty). To this end, I introduce a novel experimental paradigm which isolates the effects of impact uncertainty from outcome control. The findings revealed that after experiencing impact uncertainty, participants demonstrated greater causal complexity (i.e. more likely to make situational attributions and judge outcomes as having a “ripple effect”), but did not make fewer effort attributions for the outcomes. These findings demonstrate how the experience of impact uncertainty can affect cognitive processing, without compromising outcome control. Implications of these findings for developing more nuanced theories on control and uncertainty are discussed.

© 2015 International Union of Psychological Science