What are Good Examples of Uncertainty Avoidance?

Since this is (or at least I think it is) one of the most difficult dimensions of Professor Geert Hofstede to explain, it makes sense to give some extra context and examples of Uncertainty Avoidance. If you’re not familiar with this uncertainty avoidance index at all, I strongly suggest you read this article first. It will give you a good overview of the breadth of this Hofstede cultural dimension.

If you’re just interested to see a wide range of examples of uncertainty avoidance, read on.

What is Uncertainty Avoidance and What Isn’t?examples of uncertainty avoidance

To understand what uncertainty avoidance index is and what it isn’t let me use a question and a multiple choice answer.

The question: “Would people from countries that score low on this dimension be more likely to bungee jump?”

Possible answers:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Bungee jumping has nothing to do with uncertainty avoidance

The correct answer is 3. Bungee jumping has nothing to do with uncertainty avoidance. Bungee jumping falls in the category of so-called “calculated risks”. Sure enough, there are risks involved when you bungee jump, but there are also risks involved when you drive a car or get on a plane. Driving a car and getting on a plane are also calculated risks.

Starting your own business is not a calculated risk. Even if you create a business plan, as soon as you start executing it, reality gets in the way and unpredictable things will happen.

Therefore entrepreneurship is part of uncertainty avoidance and bungee jumping isn’t.

Correlations with Uncertainty Avoidance Index

I found that to best understand this Uncertainty Avoidance index it works to link real-life examples (or phenomena) to these dimensions in terms of correlations.

Below you see an image with an incomplete (!) list of correlations with Uncertainty Avoidance. I’ll explain them below the image. So in a culture that scores high on Uncertainty Avoidance (in the image uncertainty avoidance is abbreviated as AA which stands for Anxiety Avoidance; the vertical axis), people will do/show/consume/etc. more of the points listed.

Uncertainty Avoidance Correlations

  • Showing of Emotions: Compare a minor head-to-tail car collision in Rome with one in London. Most likely there will be more “Emotional Fireworks” in Rome!
  • Highway Speed: Correlates directly with Uncertainty Avoidance. The higher the score on this dimension, the faster people are (legally) allowed to drive, but also drive fast(er), even when it’s not allowed. The “need for speed” is in this dimension.
  • Alcohol Consumption: The higher the score on this dimension, the more alcohol people consume. The Brits (low scoring culture) are by far not the highest beer consumers in the world… The Czechs are, followed by the Germans.
  • Smoking: Something that is slowly banned in the Western World, but still there are significant differences in cultures and smoking.

If you consider smoking, alcohol consumption, and speeding, you can see that they are all in some form or shape a way of expressing one’s emotions. The point here is that “showing of emotions” does not mean that people scream and shout all the time or go about life crying all the time. There are different ways of expressing your emotions.

  • Medicine Consumption: Same as the previous point; whereby France tops the list in the EU.
  • Designer Clothing: As they say “Better to be overdressed than to be underdressed“. Italians spend the most on designer clothing in the EU. They also score high on Uncertainty Avoidance.
  • Expertise: This is where people put importance on official and academic titles. E.g. the “Herr Dr. Dr.” in Germany.
  • Euro to Local Currency: In a couple of European countries (e.g. France) the prices in supermarkets are mentioned in Euros, but also in the old currency (French Francs in this example).
  • Coronary heart disease: This is an inverse or negative correlation. In other words, countries that score high on Uncertainty Avoidance and let out their emotions suffer less of coronary heart disease. You could say that blowing off steam is good for your health.
  • Subtitles: Also a negative correlation. What this means is that high scoring cultures audio-dub TV programs, rather than subtitle it. Example: James Bond speaks German in Germany. There are exceptions (e.g. Flanders in Belgium).

I can think of more examples of uncertainty avoidance and the challenge here is for you to decide which way they correlate: positive or negative:

  • Drinking bottled water instead of tap water?
  • Securing WIFI networks?
  • …?

See the Scores of All Countries on Uncertainty Avoidance Index.

I hope that with these examples of uncertainty avoidance this dimension has become a bit clearer.

If you’re interested in seeing an overview of all the countries in the world and their respective score on this dimension, go here.

Examples of the dimension hierarchy or power distance can be found here.

What did I miss? Comments? Leave them at the end of this post


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