The Need for Cognitive Closure

How It Affects Your Personal Productivity

“Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it.” ~ Thomas Harris

The need for cognitive closure is a psychological term that describes the human desire to obtain a straight answer to any questions leaving no space for confusion or ambiguity.

This need isn’t the same for everyone, each person has a different level of neediness for cognitive closure. If you are at the top of the scale you’ll have some preferences towards predictability, order and organization. If you are on the bottom part, you’ll feel more comfortable in open and ambiguous situations, and you won’t feel that bothered with indecision. Most people though, find themselves around the middle part of the scale, to put it another way, they value order but they can live with a certain level of uncertainty.

Besides your natural predisposition, the need for cognitive closure is very much affected by the circumstances of the moment and the particular situation. When you are in a very undetermined environment and with too much information, or you are pressured by tiredness or a time limit, your need for closure increases considerably. The greater the need for cognitive closure the greater the stress.

This need though can be beneficial in some situations. It helps you being more disciplined, and helps you focus on solving problems under stress. It can also be a good indicator for personal productivity: making decisions one after the other, solving questions, can be understood as something productive.

But it can also end up as something negative. A strong need to feel like you move forward, that you’re being productive, can lead up to rushed decisions. If the need for cognitive closure is too high, situations ruled by impatience, impulsivity, conflict and authoritarianism can be generated. Generally all coupled with not very smart decisions.

Arie Kruglanski studied this phenomenon in detail and created, together with Donna Webster, a test with 42 questions to measure the scale of neediness for cognitive closure of people. You can try out a short version of the test here.

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