Uncertainty and information management: A meta-analytic review of uncertainty's effects on information management in illness contexts

Kai Kuang, Purdue University


The current dissertation project meta-analyzed 48 studies that examined the effects of uncertainty on information management within illness contexts. Illness provides a unique context within which uncertainty is a prevalent condition and information management serves as a primary means of managing illness uncertainty. Drawing from three literatures (uncertainty and communication, uncertainty in illness, and uncertainty and coping), this study proposed and tested a model delineating uncertainty’s effect on information management, mediated by emotions and moderated by stage of illness, patients’ age, channel of information management, and operationalization of uncertainty and emotions. The meta-analysis found that the effects of uncertainty varied for different information management strategies. For example, illness uncertainty was strongly and positively associated with both anxiety and information avoidance, and these associations varied little in magnitude across moderating conditions. In contrast, illness uncertainty, on average, was not significantly associated with information seeking, but the association did vary in direction and strength depending on uncertainty operationalization as well as patient age. The study extends theoretical understanding about the nature of illness uncertainty in multiple ways. First, it highlights the importance of attending to whether studies measure actual uncertainty, desired uncertainty, and the discrepancy between the two since these influence information management differently. Second, it demonstrates the need to attend to relationships among different information management strategies, since they are not mutually exclusive and may be linked over time. Third, it emphasizes the importance of continuing to explore moderators of uncertainty’s effect on information management, since associations between uncertainty, emotions, and information seeking appear to vary depending on factors such as participant age or stage of illness. The project also has practical implications. Physicians and healthcare providers need to be attentive to not only patients’ perceived level of uncertainty, but also how certain they desire to be. Older patients and younger patients respond to illness uncertainty in different ways, so healthcare providers and caregivers need to tailor uncertainty management interventions to foster adaptive coping with illness uncertainty.




Wilson, Purdue University.

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