An Examination of Ambivalence: When Cognitive Conflicts Can Help Individuals Overcome Cognitive Traps
Guarana, Cristiano Levi O.
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Ambivalence has become a common psychological state in organizations. Although most of the literature on ambivalence has focused on its dysfunctional outcomes associated with defensive and coping mechanisms, this dissertation explores its functional outcomes related to deliberative cognitive processes. My initial assumption is that individuals experiencing ambivalence go through a psychological state dominated by cognitive fluidity, which prompts individuals to investigate the root causes of their discomfort and become aware of relevant contextual cues. Considering that leaders and followers need to integrate conflicting information in complex and dynamic contexts, experiencing ambivalence can have functional outcomes. As such, in this dissertation, I explore the influence of ambivalence-a cognitive conflict caused by concurrent opposite evaluations-on contextual interpretation and decision-making. To this end, this research is divided into three interrelated chapters. The central goal in Chapter 1 is to develop a theoretical model that describes when and how ambivalence in complex situations can lead to functional leadership processes and decision-making outcomes. I propose four processes that result from leader-follower shared ambivalence (i.e., sense-jumping, upward sense-giving, downward sense-giving, and sense-building), and outline four corresponding decision-making outcomes (i.e., automatic inference, issue selling, subordination, and joint contextual interpretation). I also describe specific boundary conditions (i.e., time availability, decision frequency, and expertise) that constrain the proposed processes. Moving from the dyadic level to the individual level, in Chapter 2, I focus on the effects of ambivalence on individual decision-making processes. Building upon social cognition theory, I offer a model in which identification of the causes of ambivalence can counteract adverse coping and defensive mechanisms associated with the dysfunctional outcomes of ambivalence. I put forth an intrapsychological model of identified ambivalence. Within this model, I argue that identified ambivalence leads to effective decision-making through two mechanisms: contextual awareness and moral awareness. Additionally, I propose two first-stage moderators for this framework. The first moderator is trait self-control, which influences the strength of the relationship between identified ambivalence and contextual awareness. The second is perceptual moral attentiveness, which affects the strength of the relationship between identified ambivalence and moral awareness. In a series of four studies, the hypotheses were supported. Taken together, Chapter 2 advances the current knowledge of ambivalence theory by explaining why, how, and when ambivalence can result in functional outcomes. I conclude my dissertation in Chapter 3 by proposing potential future avenues for studying identified ambivalence. Specifically, I propose that future research should investigate the effects of identified ambivalence on group dynamics and group decision effectiveness, and examine the relationship between identified ambivalence and organizational structure (i.e., information structure and process structure).