Ambivalence and decisional conflict as a cause of psychological discomfort: Feeling tense before jumping off the fence

Frenk van Harreveld*, Bastiaan T. Rutjens, Mark Rotteveel, Loran F. Nordgren, Joop van der Pligt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


It has long been assumed that people experience evaluative conflict or ambivalence as unpleasant. In three studies we provide direct evidence for the assumption that ambivalence is unpleasant, but only when one has to commit to one side of the issue. In those situations ambivalence will be related to outcome uncertainty and feelings of discomfort. We examined this prediction using both self-reports and physiological measures. In a first study we manipulated ambivalence and whether or not participants had to take a clear stand vis-a vis the attitudinal issue and choose a position for or against it. Results indicate ambivalence was only related to physiological arousal when a choice had to be made. Feeling ambivalent about an issue without the necessity to choose did not result in higher levels of arousal. A second study replicated and extended these findings by including a measure of subjective uncertainty about the decision. Results showed the same pattern as in Study 1, and indicate that the relation between ambivalence and arousal is mediated by uncertainty about decisional outcomes. In the third and final study these findings are corroborated using self-report measures; these indicated that ambivalence-induced discomfort is related to specific (negative) emotions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-173
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009


  • Ambivalence
  • Arousal
  • Attitudes
  • Choice
  • Discomfort
  • Dissonance
  • Judgment
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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