People prefer options that are clear and certain

Redmond, M. Uncertainty Reduction Theory (2015)


When faced with a new experience, people are hesitant to jump in feet first. When that experience is also unclear with an uncertain outcome, it can cause people cognitive stress. In short, people avoid the jump entirely.

The theory originated around how people communicate. How we approach and form new relationships with people using interpersonal communication.

The same interaction can be applied to how technology and companies communicate with people. People tend to avoid options that are ambiguous or have uncertain outcomes. Preferring to stick to what they know or avoid the experience altogether. By making expectations and new experiences clearer it encourages people to choose them over other options.

The more uncertainty people feel, the more information they need to help them through the process.

Uncertainty arises in two ways:

  • Cognitive
    When we are unsure of the beliefs and attitudes of the new interaction
  • Behavioural
    When we are unsure what is expected of our behaviour, especially when it is completely new to us. We tend to fall back on social norms in these interactions.

How Might We

  • How might we discover when people are most uncertain?
  • How might we prioritise information to match what information they will need?
  • How might we break down complex ideas and terminology to make sure people can understand clearly?
  • How might we include stories of other people’s experience to familiarise people?
  • How might we demonstrate similar beliefs and attitudes to create similarity?

Use with HEART

  • Happiness: reduce uncertainty in the process and outcome makes people feel happier about their choice. Both before their choice and afterwards.
  • Adoption: outline the process behind new choices makes it easier for people to try new products and experiences.

Keep reading

Read paper: Sia, C., Tan, B., Luo, C. Getting to Know Websites through Uncertainty Reduction Strategies: Which Strategies Are Used More, and Which Are Better? An Empirical Study of First-Time Visitors

Read paper: Shin, Soo., Lee, K., Yang, S-B. How do uncertainty reduction strategies influence social networking site fan page visiting? Examining the role of uncertainty reduction strategies, loyalty and satisfaction in continuous visiting behavior