The need for: Certainty
Explanations > Needs
What is certainty? | The
effects of uncertainty | So what?
A need we have that contributes to other needs is to be
certain about what we know, do and say. Without certainty, we become anxious and
What is certainty?
When we are certain about the world around us, we feel that
we understand things, can predict
what will happen, and are in control such that
we can sustain our safety. We will thus seek
to understand and control in order to achieve certainty. Predictions which come
true provide proof that we can continue to be certain about what we know.
The feeling of certainty
Certainty is felt as a comfortable feeling, can be sensed as
smugness or even arrogance. Pride goes before a fall and over-certainty can make
people so blind they do not see problems until they hit them in the face.
The effects of uncertainty
Uncertainty is uncomfortable and creates tensions
that motivate us, although not always in the right direction.
Uncertainty causes anxiety
Certainty is often only noticed when it is below a certain(!)
level. The feeling of uncertainty is uncomfortable and leads to anxiety.
Unfortunately, as John F. Kennedy said, ‘There is nothing as certain and
unchanging as uncertainty and change.’
Many people spend their
lives in search of certainty. Many psychiatric illnesses, from anorexia to
compulsive-obsessive disorder, stem from the deep need for control and certainty
that can never be found.
Uncertainty is confusing
Removing certainty often leads to
confusion, which is a
fundamental technique that underpins many other approaches to persuasion. A
confused person will clutch at straws to regain their certainty.
Uncertainty forces us to immediately pay attention, which uses more mental
resources, particularly in the
Even a small uncertainty triggers an error response in our orbital frontal
cortex, forcing attention away from more normal goal-oriented actions.
So create uncertainty to motivate people. Confuse them or otherwise make them
anxious. Show how the future is not are predictable as they thought. Then show them how they can be more certain. Lead them along the path to a
The opposite of certainty is confusion, which can be created by unexpected
actions and words, complexity, etc. Keep them on their toes and stay one step
ahead by being difficult to predict.
Be careful with over-doing uncertainty. The end goal is to make them grasp at
your straws, not to make them swim away from you.