Decision Making Deficits

Intolerance of uncertainty prompts compulsive decision making?

In this blog we are concerned in various ways with how emotional processing and regulation deficits appear at the heart of addictive behaviours such as distress based impulsivity and a decision making profile which seems to favour short term decision making over long term regardless of long term decision making conferring greater gains.

It is almost as if there is something akin to an intolerance of uncertainty in addiction and alcoholism as there appears to be in general anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. It appears this clinical group also appears to act based on emotional factors, perhaps even to alleviate an unpleasant feeling state or a distress state.

I have recently come across an article (1) which looked at this intolerance of uncertainty in relation to decision making and came up with similar conclusions to the above. “high IU (intolerance of uncertainty) predicted shorter wait times and more frequent selection of the immediate, less valuable (and riskier) reward. We take this tendency as evidence that IU was associated with an aversion to waiting in a state of uncertainty. One might argue that choices for the more immediate, less valuable reward might reflect an aversion to waiting per se…, the delay associated with the more valuable reward in the current study appears to have magnified the unpleasant affective responses to uncertainty… delay is provoking unpleasant affective responses, choices for the smaller, immediate reward can be seen as avoidance of distress.”

Decisions are thus like an “escape route” and more based on emotional avoidance.

“That is, the affective consequences of uncertainty may play a more central role in determining behavior than uncertainty itself…decision making tendencies among those high in IU may be maintained through negative reinforcement…to reduce or eliminate affectively unpleasant circumstances that accompany waiting in uncertainty.”

These “unpleasant affective responses” are distress based and may lead to a negative urgency to act now.


1. Luhmann, C. C., Ishida, K., & Hajcak, G. (2011). Intolerance of uncertainty and decisions about delayed, probabilistic rewards. Behavior therapy, 42(3), 378-386.

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