Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Rowe, W Glenn


I contend that perceived environmental uncertainty should be divided into a new pair of uncertainty components, which I label object and relations uncertainty. Object uncertainty is defined as an actor’s inability to predict the future accurately due to a lack of information about object items (i.e., tangible, reducible, asocial items). Relations uncertainty is defined as an actor’s inability to predict the future accurately due to a lack of information about relations items (abstract, reduction-resistant, social items).

I contend that the object-relations uncertainty component-set is supported by uncertainty research and categorization theory. First, these two components are supported by the works of a variety of prominent organizational and decision-making theorists who portray uncertainty with both object-like and relations-like qualities. Second, this component-set is supported by categorization theory, which identifies the object and relations categories as a fundamental pair of superordinate categories that individuals activate as they make sense of their certain and uncertain environments.

To validate this new component-set I conducted two studies on two different samples. In the first, respondents compared multiple uncertainty statements that expressed different degrees of object and relations uncertainty. I found that respondents perceived object and relations uncertainty as distinct. Without any priming, respondents rated uncertainties from the same component (i.e., object-to-object or relations-to-relations comparisons) as similar, while they rated uncertainties from different components (i.e., object-to-relations comparisons) as dissimilar. Moreover, these respondents ordered the uncertainties along an axis based on the degree of object or relations component they perceived.

In the second study, respondents were presented either an object or relations uncertainty and asked to rate the appropriateness of a variety of uncertainty responses. I found that respondents who perceived object uncertainty preferred different responses than respondents who perceived relations uncertainty. For instance, respondents presented with object uncertainty preferred augmenting the gathering and processing of information, while respondents presented with relations uncertainty preferred to alter the coordination metrics that guided their relationship with transactors.

In summary, I find that object and relations uncertainty are perceived as a set of uncertainty components, and account for actor-response variance that is not otherwise accounted for by the more traditional explanatory variable ‘degree of uncertainty’.